Jeev enjoys his passage from India

Tim Glover meets the traveller bringing a touch of spice to the European Tour
Click to follow
The Independent Online
JEEV Milkha Singh enjoyed a drop of whisky at the Salisbury Arms near Hertford last Sunday evening. "I love scotch," he said, "but only on Sundays when my work is finished." Jeev could afford the finest malt after a rewarding performance in the National Car Rental English Open at Hanbury Manor. He finished joint eighth at 10 under par, seven strokes behind the winner Lee Westwood, and received pounds 15,380, the biggest cheque to date on his maiden voyage on the European Tour.

The previous week in Hamburg he was 12 under par, finished joint 22nd and won pounds 11,880. He has broken into the top 60 on the Volvo ranking with a shade under pounds 50,000 and with the season not at the halfway mark, he is already well within sight of achieving his ambition, which is to retain his Tour card. "Golf is in my heart," Jeev said. "I'm ready to pay my dues." He is the first Indian to play on the European Tour, the first to graduate from a tortuous qualifying school where he emerged with honours in 11th place. He is a welcome addition.

Jeev is the son of an athlete who was known as "The Flying Sikh". At the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958, Milkha Singh won the 400m gold medal. "The Queen's husband presented him with the medal," Jeev said. "I have seen it on film." Six years later at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, the Flying Sikh, despite breaking the world record, finished fourth. "I'm so proud of him," Jeev said. "He had a very hard time. When India and Pakistan were fighting over Partition in 1947 my father's parents were shot dead in front of him. He hid in a ladies' compartment on a train and escaped to a refugee camp in Kashmir."

It was as sports director of the Punjabi State 20 years ago that the Flying Sikh started to play golf at a local course in Chandigarh. "He took me along and I become so keen he cut an old set of clubs in half. I began playing when I was eight. I'd spend five hours a day on the course."

In 1987, after winning the All India Junior title, Jeev was second in the Brad Sanders World Junior finals in Aberdeen. He asked Sanders for a scholarship to America. "I went in 1988, got homesick after three months and returned to India. The same thing happened in 1989. We are a very close-knit family and I was also missing Indian food." A case of home Jeev and don't spare the horses, but he succeeded at his third attempt and in 1990 enrolled at the Abilene Christian University.

Jeev remembers the golf rather than business and international studies. Under the coaching of Vince Jarrett, whom he still consults, Jeev was big in Texas. He won the Abilene Invitational, the Lone Star Conference and the NCAA Division Two championship two years running. He also won titles in Oklahoma and California and by 1993, the season he turned professional after winning the Collegiate Player of the Year award, had been victorious in Malaysia. "College was fantastic," Jeev said, "the facilities were excellent and you could hit as many balls as you wanted. We used to gamble on the putting green with every putt worth a dollar. It really improved my putting."

When the Omega Tour began to take shape in Asia, Jeev was ready. He won events in India, Korea, Thailand and the Philippines. He has 11 tournament victories to his name and was third on the Omega Order of Merit in 1995 and fifth last year. Next month a record 46 players from Asia will attempt to qualify for The Open at Royal Birkdale.

"I was so lucky," Jeev said. "The development of the Asian Tour meant I could play all year round and for good money. The timing couldn't have been better. In 1994 I was completely broke and I had to ask dad to help me out. Then I won $12,000 in Taiwan and $70,000 in Korea. I've been having fun ever since."

This week Jeev, who is sponsored by Hero Honda, a company that makes motorbikes in India, has been rooming with Daniel Chopra at Slaley Hall, Northumberland, for the Compaq European Grand Prix. Chopra's mother is Swedish, his father Indian. "We can talk in Hindi, Punjabi or an English mix," Jeev said. "And we both love curries. I can't live without them. When the Tour's in England it's brilliant."

He is employing John Roberts, a retired financial adviser from Bournemouth as his caddie. Roberts could be termed Jeev's Jeeves but for the fact that, because of his diminutive size, everybody refers to him as Ronnie as in Corbett. "I sold my business at 50 with the intention of becoming a caddie," Roberts said. "You can't beat being close to sport at the highest level."

It looks as if he has found a lucrative bag. "I'm maturing," the 26-year-old Jeev said. "The standard on the European Tour is so high you've got to be on your toes all the time.In the Italian Open I was three under par and I missed the cut. The most important thing I've learnt is to keep fighting."

Jeev is one of only 150 professionals in India but the picture is changing. "I can see the day when India will have a tournament on the European Tour and in 10 to 15 years golf will be as big as cricket."

Chandigarh, a town of about a million people north of New Delhi, is the home of not only the Flying Sikh but the great all-rounder Kapil Dev. It is possible that it will also be remembered as the place that produced Jeev Milkha Singh.