Long in distance, high on ambition: Avani eyes golfing glory in China

Representing the country in a major competition at the age of 16 requires prodigious talent, and Avani Prashanth ticks that box. The Bengaluru girl has been making waves on the international circuit for some time now, and it’s the distance from the tee that she manages, remarkable for someone her age and build, that is arguably the most talked-about aspect of her game. Avani is still an amateur but sends the ball almost 270 yards with the driver on an average, comparable with some of the best woman golfers in the world.

Now preparing to go to the Hangzhou Asian Games, Avani is fine-tuning her game on the golf course along with the likes of S Chikkarangappa and Khalin Joshi, the latter being one of her teammates in China.

Avani is the first Indian to win the Queen Sirikit Cup in Manila earlier this year in a quality field by a margin of 10 shots, but the Asian Games will be the most high-profile event she will compete in, with many who don’t necessarily follow golf tracking her progress.

“It’s all about getting used to high-quality competition,” Avani tells The Indian Express from her home after a busy tournament schedule and before she leaves for the Asiad. “It will be the first international multisport event that I will be part of.”

The presence of current World No.1 Ruoning Yin in the field hasn’t deterred Avani from aiming high.

“The goal is the gold medal. But I will focus on playing my best game because if I do that, I can win in any field,” she says. Avani has never been to China, and will use a golfing app to do her homework on the West Lake Golf Course. After the Asiad, she plans to compete in the Ladies European Tour Qualifying School and if successful, turn professional in January 2024 with an eye on sealing a spot at the Paris Olympics.

The teenager’s length off the tee is what has caught the eye, and it’s her unique golf swing that is the reason for the distance she achieves.

“The swing comes naturally to me and has not been taught by anyone. I have a little jump before I hit the ball. It has been there since a very young age and has contributed to greater clubhead speed and distance,” Avani says. “I can hit the ball 270 yards off the tee. Some people have said that the swing can result in injury, but right now I’m the World No.1 in driving distance in my category.”

It’s her short game – chipping and putting – that is likely to decide how well she will fare at the Asiad. “It’s one facet of the game that can always get better.”

Avani’s father, Prashanth M S, has been posted in countries like South Africa and Nigeria in connection with his corporate job, and once she showed an aptitude and talent for golf at a very young age, the family didn’t spare any time or resource in a bid to ensure that his daughter realises her full potential.

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“Once she started winning or finishing high in elite age-group events in India, USA and Europe, we decided golf would be her main focus and academics the second priority,” Prashanth, who has drafted a ‘Long Term Athlete Development Programme’ for his daughter with the goal of being World No.1 by 2026, says.

Being so committed to a sport requires foregoing many of the recreational pastimes youngsters of her age enjoy, but Avani is not complaining.

“I don’t think I’m missing out on anything. Whatever I want to watch, I can watch during flights,” she says nonchalantly.

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