Shenzhen, China: Seven years may have elapsed since he last raised aloft the Faldo Series Asia trophy, but Rashid Khan’s memories of his back-to-back triumphs remain vividly etched in his mind.
To this day, the Indian is still the only player to have had the distinction of claiming victory over the Faldo Course at Mission Hills in successive years.
“I’m very proud when I look back at what I achieved in the Faldo Series Asia,” said Khan, now aged 25 and a rising star of the professional game with two wins on the Asian Tour already under his belt.
“I have such happy memories of the time I spent at the Faldo Series Asia Grand Finals. I learned so much from Mr Faldo. It was a wonderful feeling to attend the clinics he staged each year.
“I was also lucky enough to take part in a skills challenge with him. That was great fun – we skimmed shots across the water and played three-irons out of a bunker!”
Listed as 292nd in the Official World Golf Ranking at the start of the year, there’s a glint in Khan’s eyes when he’s asked about the most memorable moments in his first Faldo Series Asia win in 2008.
Starting the final day two shots off the lead, Khan rose splendidly to the challenge. By the time he reached the 15th hole, a short par-four, he was three-under for the round and one stroke ahead of the field.
Given his narrow advantage, Khan could have been forgiven for taking the safe option and hitting an iron lay-up to the right of the gaping ravine that runs more than 250 yards from tee to green.
But showing no signs of nerves, Khan pulled out his driver. He watched with contentment as his ball sailed over the hazard and came to rest at the front edge of the putting surface.
“The pin was cut at the back right of the green. I was about 70 feet short – and I holed it for an eagle-two! That gave me a three-shot lead,” recalled Khan. “I had seen Mr Faldo watching from behind the green. As I was walking to the 16th tee, he said to me: ‘Great putt. Nice birdie!’ I replied: ‘That was an eagle, Mr Faldo!’
“After I made birdie at the par-three 16th, he turned to our team manager and said: ‘Wow! He’s a machine!’ I remember it so well. I was so happy that week. It was my first international win and I’ll never forget that.
“I was delighted to win … and to do it with Nick Faldo watching was extremely exciting,” said Khan, who signed for a closing six-under-par 66 and a 54-hole total of 205 – five shots in front of overnight leader Chan Shih-chang of Chinese Taipei and fellow Indian Rahul Bakshi.
Twelve months later, Khan once more proved too strong for his Grand Final rivals – although this time it was much closer.
With a two-shot lead heading to the par-five 18th, Khan was looking forward to a stress-free stroll down the final fairway. But conflicting information given to him about the state of play in front of him left him unsure whether he needed a par or a birdie to win.
“I played safe and hit a lay-up to the left with my second shot because I thought I only needed a par. Then I was told that in the group ahead of me one of the players [Spain’s Adrian Jauregui] chipped in for an eagle.
“So I had to get up-and-down for a birdie. Fortunately, I hit a chip to within six inches and tapped in to win by one. I still remember the lay out of every hole on the course and what clubs I hit.”
While past memories remain strong, Khan is now focusing his attentions on the immediate future and retains grand ambitions.
He said: “For this year, my first aim is to win a place in the golf tournament at the Rio Olympic Games. That would be something very special, to represent my country in Brazil. Beyond that it is still my goal to make it onto the PGA Tour. That is what I am continuing to work towards.”
In the meantime, he’ll be watching with interest from afar to see how the Indian contingent fare at Mission Hills next week.
“The Faldo Series Asia Grand Final is a fantastic event. It meant so much to me. I hope the 10th anniversary final at Mission Hills is the best yet,” he said.
Supported by The R&A and Mission Hills and endorsed by the Asian Tour and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the 2015-16 Faldo Series Asia campaign stretched over 11 months and was made up of 21 events in 17 countries including, for the first time, Australia.
Birmingham, England: The PGA of Great Britain & Ireland is inviting all those who work or volunteer in golf to join its new membership groups – the Business Management Group and Club Volunteer by PGA.