Grewal's growing pains ease

Emerging British talent shares greens with a famous Red
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The Independent Online

Should Michael Owen score against Arsenal today, the Grewal family will once again be proud to be able to say they are acquainted with the Liverpool and England striker. Sandeep Grewal, a committed Liverpool fan, has played golf at Heswall with Owen since the age of 14. "I am sure this week it was the other way round," said Vic Grewal, Sandeep's father. "It's nice to think Michael was telling his team-mates, 'I know him. I play golf with him'."

Ultimately, Sandeep Grewal's performance in the Dun-hill Championship in Johan- nesburg last week was overshadowed by the universal delight at Justin Rose's first victory as a professional. For all Rose's fame from his performance at the Open at Birkdale in 1998, his pro career had been a huge struggle. That he has survived and begun to fulfil his potential is an inspiration to Grewal, who played boys' golf with Rose.

Grewal is in the professional's no-man's-land – he has no status on any tour and can only play where and when he can, which is what makes the 20-year-old's achievement at the Dunhill so significant. A 64 in the second round at Houghton left Grewal sharing the halfway lead and he went on to finish eighth, four strokes behind Rose, and earned £17,716. "As Sandeep says, he is playing credit-card golf," said Vic Grewal. "The money means he can play for another year."

It is where to play that is the problem. Usually, a top-10 finish on the European Tour leads to a place in the field the following week. That regulation, however, does not apply to the co-sanctioned events at this time of year, but making the cut at Houghton did give Grewal rights on the Sunshine Tour, meaning he was eligible to play this weekend at the South African PGA Championship, where he safely made the cut but dropped down the field with a 75 yesterday, and the Dimension Data event, won in recent years by Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke.

So far, Grewal has played only two European Tour events – the other was the Dunhill at Houghton last year, when he missed the cut – and had to prequalify each time. "He has not had an invitation yet and he doesn't have a sponsor," Vic Grewal said. "He is doing it the hard way but is determined and knows where he wants to be in a few years' time. He is maturing and gaining in confidence all the time. He can go all the way."

His father, a shop-owner in Birkenhead, and Andrew Chandler's International Sports Management are subsidising Grewal's career. Until Sandeep showed a natural hand-eye co-ordination the first time he went to a driving range at the age of nine, no one had played golf in the Grewal family. But his grandfather played hockey for India in the 1964 Olympics and later for his adopted Kenya. Vic represented England Under-21s at the same sport.

Sandeep's golf progressed under the guidance of Alan Thompson, head pro at Heswall, to the point where he persuaded his father to let him leave school at 16 to concentrate on the game. In 1999, with Nick Dougherty, he was part of the England Boys' team who did the grand slam of world, European and Home International titles. His first full amateur title, the West of England Strokeplay, followed in 2000 and he became the first British Asian to represent England.

But with a glut of good amateurs coming through, Grewal reckoned his chances of further caps would be limited and decided to turn pro at 18. He got through to the final stages of the Qualifying School, ending up with a card for the Challenge Tour for 2001, but barely made a cut and finished 181st on the Order of Merit, losing his status.

"There were a lot of tears last year," said Vic Grewal. "It was a real struggle but over the winter he lost two stone, got himself fitter and worked on tightening up his game. There are a lot of players coming through but Sandeep knows them all, particularly people like Nick Dougherty and Jamie Donaldson. They have really encouraged him and when you know everyone, the fear factor goes. They were all after each other as amateurs and now it will be the same in the pro game.

"His heroes growing up were people like Seve and Greg Norman. He loved Greg's flair, the way he played and the way he behaved. Of course, Tiger has taken over a bit, and he is always shouting for him and Sergio Garcia.

"Last week he played with Ernie Els ,and Sandeep said he could not have been more of a gentleman. Ernie told him to go out and enjoy playing in front of the crowd and was always saying, 'Good shot'. The whole family were chuffed to bits with him last week and there have been messages of congratulations from all round the world." Not to mention one from a certain Michael Owen.

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