Gurbaaz Mann is a man of many parts. Pro Golfer. Singer. DJ. Dabbles in golf technology. Advises on golf. He is only 33. But now he is now on a different mission: to take the Indian pros to the ultimate destination for all golf professionals – the US PGA Tour, where he would have liked to be, but could not.
It was not too long ago that he was bombing his drives past 300 yards on Indian fairways. And in the evenings, he would regale his close golfing friends with his music and renditions of his favourite number ‘Hotel California’ and much more. He had spent a few of years studying for a Business Administration degree in Arizona and then turned pro. He even won a few times on Indian Pro Tour but always seemed more talented than his results showed. He also played on the Asian Tour with modest results.
Then, one day he packed his bags and went off to the United States. That was around five-odd years ago. He had gone there to work on some golf equipment and work on a technology to help in putting. He did come back but later went on to set up his company in the US. This latest venture could well be a game-changer for Indian professional golf.
After losing touch for years, I ran into him in Florida last December at the Hero World Challenge, the first-ever pro event on the PGA Tour sponsored by an Indian corporate. He now lives in Columbus, Ohio. We are back in touch.
Nicknamed ‘Baaz’, he set up a golf company called ‘Falcon 1 Golf’. The Falcon, incidentally, is called ‘Baaz’ in Hindi. Thus began his second stint.
For the last six weeks, he has had his friends and former colleagues from the Indian professional Tour come over to the US for a 45-day, 22-city coast to coast on a road trip for the 10 pros. The pros, Ajeetesh Sandhu, Amardip Malik, Abhijit Chadha, Abhinav Lohan, Abhishek Jha, Rahul Bajaj, Angad Cheema, Sujjan Singh, Shubhankar Sharma and Gurbaaz himself are all recognizable names on Indian pro circuit and everyone of them nurses the dream of playing on the PGA Tour. Gurbaaz is trying to get them closer to that dream.
Baaz recalls, “The idea came when I came here to develop golf technology for my company ‘Falcon 1 Golf’. I met Dr. Shantanu Sinha (a Cardiologist) whose son is a top ranked amateur in Columbus, Ohio. Watching me play, he asked, ‘Why don't Indian players make it to the PGA if we are that good. And what is missing?’ After a long discussion we came to the conclusion that players don't venture to the US Tour Qualifying due to logistical and monetary restraints. The current route we follow is the Asian Tour, then European and then, once in a while, some events on the PGA and through Q-School.
“It is only logical for players to stay closer to home and play on exempt tours where they make sufficient income to survive, especially because they are all self funded. So they rarely venture to the US.”
Living in the US and interacting with the Indian community meant, he would often be discussing golf, for that was still his profession, though he was now more into helping pros hone their skills. He went on, “The Indians in North America have heard of and have met with the best players from the India but have hardly seen them play.”
In 2014 Gurbaaz along with three other Indian pros (Ajeetesh Sandhu, Amardip Malik and Mandeo Pathania) reached out to the Indian communities in San Francisco and Houston. Saji Samuel and Pradeep Bakshi from the Indian Amerian Golf League (IAGL) and Indo-American Golf Association) respectively, responded when asked if they would like to host these players and showcase Indian Golf best to their communities.
That was how the Indo-American Professional Golf Association (IAPGA) was born. Gurbaaz says, “Ajeetesh was visiting his sisters in US and Amardip came over to work on his equipment.”
The four Indians travelled only to two destinations – San Francisco and Houston – but they were overwhelmed by the welcome they got. “A few phone calls here and there and we were hosted by locals, who loved golf and were Indians themselves,” says Gurbaaz.
He added, “The support of the Indian Community was overwhelming. Now people are coming out from all over to help us. Earlier they didn't know how to help. So, we at IAPGA put it together and with this we can give Indian pros a chance to have a shot at pro golf in US, through Web.com Tour and then onto the PGA Tour.”
So, how did the ‘IAPGA Road Trip of 2015’ happen? “It took me almost two years to plan the 2015 tour and six years (since the time he first came to US) to build the platform close to what I thought I personally needed as a player when I was younger. It was with the help of Mr. Lalit Jain (a legal expert and a well-known Indian in US) and Dr, Sinha (a cardiologist) that this became a reality.”
“The players were keen to travel and play on various courses in the US. We played Pro-Am events with locals and the games have been on some of the best courses, like the course on which the PGA Tour event, Shell Houston Open is played. The players have bonded well with Indians in US and the local golfing community have funded the travel, stay and golf,” adds Gurbaaz.
What next? Gurbaaz is trying to make this an annual event. “We want it to be annual event that culminates before first stage of the Web.com Q-school and hopefully we would have brought Indian pros closer to playing pro gold in US,” he says. “The conditions here are great, access to golf courses and facilities are fantastic and the infrastructure is there to realize one’s potential and we are helping Indian pros get there.”