Gaganjeet Bhullar’s excitement to be competing in this week’s US$1 million SJM Macao Open at Macau Golf and Country Club is understandable: he is the defending champion, and a two-time winner – on both occasions, incredibly, wire-to-wire.
“You know, I’m very, very excited,” said Bhullar, of being back for Macau’s national Open, which was last played in 2017.
“Of course, I do have a lot of positive and good memories of Macau, having won the tournament twice and, by the way, I came second once. It brightens my whole aura, and it brings back all the positives and all the happy memories for me.”
Six years ago he beat countryman Ajeetesh Sandhu and Filipino Angelo Que by three, in 2012 he triumphed by two over American Jonathan Moore, while in 2009 he was runner-up to Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant.
He added: “You know, I’ve been coming to Macau since 2007 – it was actually my first year on the Asian Tour. I mean, I have actually seen Macau grow up. We used to stay in the older part of town and then drive all the way to the golf course, and there used to be nothing on the Cotai strip, nothing. And now it’s been close to 10 years, we have not been to the old town, and I’ve stayed in some of the biggest five-star resort casinos in the world. It just gives you the buzz you know, it’s buzzing with light and life and everything. So, I think that is one thing which I’ve seen in Macau which has changed over the period of years.”
The 35-year-old is the most winningest Indian player on the Asian Tour with 10 victories and this week he is bidding to become the first player to win this event three times, as are Australian Scott Hend and Zhang Lianwei from China. Hend, 50, won here in 2013 and 2015, while Zhang, now 58, back-to-back in 2001 and 2002.
Macau Golf and Country Club, which has been the event’s regular home since its launch in 1998, features dramatic elevation changes on some holes – including the spectacular par-three 17th – and due to being right on the south coast of Coloane wind can also be a big factor. With his extensive experience on the course, Bhullar seems to have figured out what is needed to do well on the challenging layout.
“I personally think if you are driving the ball well on this golf course it gives you an edge, and all my good finishes in Macau came years when I drove the ball really well. Because if you are in the fairway throughout the round, it gives you so much of good momentum, it basically sets you up for really, really good birdie chances,” says the Indian.
“And if you’re ending up putting well, I mean, you’re unstoppable. This works for everybody and anybody who drives the ball well and putts well, but on this particular golf course, I’ve noticed, if the ball is in play off the tee, then the course is short, and the birdie opportunities open up.”
His most recent win on the Asian Tour came in last year’s Mandiri Indonesia Open, which was yet another start-to-finish victory and also his third success in the event, and ahead of this week’s tournament, which starts on Thursday, he knows there is work to be done.
“Well, if I look from my stats point of view, I’m quite happy,” said Bhullar, who is tied third on the Asian Tour’s all-time winners list.
“But if I look from the scores point of view, I think there are a few things which do not match, the scores are not matching the stats. But I’m working with my team. I’m trying to narrow down those mistakes, and I’m trying to narrow down all the small little errors which I make during the rounds. And once I end up narrowing that gap, I think the scores will definitely follow my stats.”
Australian Min Woo Lee, Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho, Miguel Tabuena from the Philippines, Thai Poom Saksansin and China’s Li Haotong, are some of the big guns here this week looking to win in Macau for the first time.
China’s Liang Wenchong, the Asian Tour number one in 2007, has also entered. The 45-year-old coached China in the recent Asian Games.