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Shubham Jaglan is going through what the majority of kids around the world loathe: studying for exams.
But, based in Delhi, 11-year-old Shubham is no ordinary kid. He has risen from the fields of Israna, a small Indian village in Haryana, to become a Junior World Golf champion.
The most surprising aspect of his steep ascent is the fact that he only took up golf six years ago, having no knowledge of even the sport’s existence prior to that.
|A father’s tale|
“Golf is an expensive sport. It was tough. We knew people in the village, and I had cows and sold milk to make money.
“My brother lives in the United States, and my father worked in a bank, so we had just about enough cash coming through.
“It was difficult, though. Initially, we had to choose tournaments carefully. Ones that required a lot of expenses, we had to skip. We travelled by bus and paid 60 rupees ($0.90) each way. That’s how we managed.
“At one tournament, we had to wait for the newspaper delivery vans at 3am so we could hitch a ride with them back home.
“We saw some tough times back then.”
Shubham’s father was a milkman in the village. He comes from a family of wrestlers. His paternal uncles were international wrestlers and medal winners. He was deemed fit to follow suit and was even enrolled in a wrestling academy in Israna.
But then he was introduced to the world of golf.
“One day my grandfather saw this golf academy open up in the village and told us about this new sport,” Shubham told Al Jazeera.
“He told my father to get me enrolled, adding that if I don’t do well at golf, there was always wrestling that I could fall back on.”
But golf is deemed a rich man’s sport for a reason. Cultural sports, together with the passion and the following cricket has in the country, makes it diffcult for an “alien sport” to be given breathing space.
The academy, launched and funded by Kapoor Singh, only lasted three months.
“The game wasn’t going anywhere. Nobody knew what golf was. It didn’t cost a lot to enroll at the academy, and we had equipment provided.
“But later on, people got to know that they will need to pay so much to take it up further. They lost interest. Everyone but me.”
Shubham’s father, Jagpal, was a milkman in the village. He had not heard of golf either. Just as Singh was closing down the academy, he told Jagpal that his son had something special in him.
Jagpal wanted his son to be a wrestler but was advised by Singh to let him continue playing golf. With the hope of watching his son excel, Jagpal listened to the advice and helped his son set up areas for practise in the village.
A putting and chipping green was then set up.
“It was actually just grass all over and three holes built in by my dad. The red carpets you see at weddings was placed on the ground so the grass would be faster.
“To practise my hitting, I used to go in the fields and also an empty college area that my dad organised, and I would just hit balls.”
But there was a limit to what Shubham could achieve in the village. Without any proper coaching, equipment, or tournaments, he reached a point where he would either need to move or give up the sport altogether.
“We realised the situation Shubham was in and hoped a solution would come our way,” his father said.
Enter Nonita Lall Qureshi, whom Shubham calls his “coach for life”. She visited the village to see the conditions and convinced the family to move to Delhi.
“It was difficult … to leave everything behind and move to a new city,” recalled Jagpal. “But wherever Shubham used to play, people would tell me he had something special about him. If a father reckons his only son could go places – and the face of that sport was in his blood, and he would be willing to take a risk. And that’s what we did.”
The move to Delhi did not go down well with Shubham’s peers in the village. It was perhaps the thought and idea that a village kid belongs in the village that forced their pessimistic views on him.
According to the young golfer, people teased him and taunted him for taking up golf, giving him “two to three months before he would come crawling back to the village”.
“Thankfully, my dad had it in his mind that he wanted me to become something. All those negative thoughts, it’s tough to hear them and not say anything. It was a difficult time for all of us.”
Separate bag for books
But despite the steep rise, the talent, and the fame, Shubham has not been getting away from studies. He’s currently in seventh grade and is indebted to his teachers for their extra attention that ensures he covers up what he misses while playing golf.
His dedication and thirst for improvement, according to his father, remain the driving force behind his success.
“Whenever he travels, there is a separate bag for his books. Me and his mother only managed until the 10th grade, and we can’t help him with his studies, but we’ve never had to send him for tuitions. He gets 90-plus marks in all his exams.
“On top of that, he’s learning German and Spanish. He stays away from junk food and soft drinks. He’s different from other kids out there. He knows what is good for him.”
Shubham won the 2015 Junior World Golf Championships in the nine to 10 age group after finishing second place twice before.
But the aim is to go beyond his dreams and become better than the best.
“I want to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors. That’s always been in my mind. And for that, I’m looking forward to the upcoming years when I become a professional.”