India’s Atwal aims to enjoy new lease of golf life at Rocket Mortage Classic

India’s Atwal aims to enjoy new lease of golf life at Rocket Mortage Classic

ARJUN Atwal, India’s first winner on the PGA TOUR, has showed up at this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic in Detroit as a new man – he is 15 pounds lighter, ache-free and swinging it faster than before.

At age 47, the trailblazing Indian is following in the footsteps of Phil Mickelson in rededicating himself to a new fitness and diet regime since the start of the year. With limited opportunities on the PGA TOUR as a past champion, Atwal believes he can still compete at the highest level when the opportunities arise before he switches attention to the PGA TOUR Champions when he turns 50.

“I look forward to competing (this week). I miss the adrenaline. When I got the news that I got in through a sponsor’s exemption, I started getting excited to practice again. I started practising with a purpose,” said Atwal.

This week’s appearance at the Detroit Golf Club, a Donald Ross-designed course, will be only his fourth start in 2020, the last being at The Honda Classic. During golf’s three-month hiatus due to Covid-19, Atwal fiddled around with some light practice but maintained a strict discipline in wanting to get fitter, stronger and faster.

“The golf club didn’t close and I did some practice but it was a weird experience. There was no real purpose to practice with the shutdown,” said Atwal, who is based in Windermere, Florida.

“I had a slight rib injury which I managed to get rid of. I’m looking forward to this one as my body feels okay for the first time in a long while. To play a tournament pain free would be great. Look forward to playing without back pain.”

Unlike Mickelson who lost 15 pounds last year through a six-day fast, Atwal shed the same amount of weight in a less drastic process. With his wife, Sona’s help, he reduced his carbohydrate intake, increased his consumption of fruit and vegetables and stopped drinking alcohol since the turn of the new decade. He also started working out three to four times a week and practices yoga diligently to remain supple.

“I don’t remember how long ago I have felt like this. It’s been a gradual weight loss and I’ve added swing speed too. I’m back to 185 pounds which was the same number when I got onto the PGA TOUR in 2004,” said Atwal, who has won eight times on the Asian Tour.

“This year I made a commitment to change my diet and get fitter. I’ve not had alcohol at all and I wanted to see how fit I could get. I wanted to get rid of the aches and pains which I’ve had for a number of years. I cleaned up my food … eating less carbs, lighter calories and not consuming 3,000 calories daily like before. I feel good. The legs feel stronger and I’m hoping that when I get to Sunday, it’ll show up when you’re carrying less weight.”

While it is his first visit to Detroit Golf Club, Atwal is looking forward to playing on the Ross-designed venue. His lone PGA TOUR victory at the 2010 Wyndham Championship at Sedgefield Country Club was at a course designed by Ross.

“In the few rounds I’ve played at home, I’ve played nicely and we’ll see if I can do it in Detroit,” said Atwal.

“The course would fit me as it’s a Donald Ross design which is old-school and my type of golf course. Working the ball around will be a premium and as long as it’s not a bomber’s paradise, I’m okay as I’m also hitting the ball longer than in the last five to six years.”

He appreciates the longevity shown by Mickelson, who turned 50 two weeks ago and still contends on the PGA TOUR including at last week’s Travelers Championship where the American legend was the halfway leader.

“Phil is showing that anybody in his 40s or 50s can do well and it gives us inspiration. It keeps me going that I think as long as I am healthy, I don’t see why I can’t compete. I’m in Detroit to compete and I’m going in with the mindset of trying to win a golf tournament,” he said.

“I want to get on a roll and get competitive. By the time I’m 50, I’ll also be ready to play on Champions. I want to win on that tour as well. I still have the desire to win as long as my body can perform. If those things are there, then I will play. As of right now, I’m feeling great.”

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