Jeev Milkha Singh’s number one dream in golf is to represent India at the 2016 Olympics – just like his father did in athletics on three occasions.
But for the time being the 40-year-old is focused on the Irish Open and following a seven under par 65 he shared the lead with France’s Gregory Bourdy heading into today’s second round at Royal Portrush, the first time the event has been staged in the North since 1953.
Singh’s father Milkha was known as “The Flying Sikh” and he is currently having a film made about his life. He missed out on a 400-metre medal in 1960 only in a photo finish.
Jeev became the first Indian to qualify for the European Tour in 1997, nine years after a first experience of links golf left him wondering what on earth it was all about.
That was as a 16-year-old at the Amateur Championship in Wales, held over both Royal Porthcawl and the nearby Pyle and Kenfig.
He had rounds of 87 and 84 there to miss out on the match play stages.
“I thought ’My God, this is tough’. I wasn’t used to wearing raingear,” he said.
Now it is all part and parcel of his life, of course, and his 65 came on a day of rain, wind and sunshine.
Not that that kept away many fans. This is the first regular European Tour event to be a complete sell-out – 27,000 tickets purchased each day – and yesterday’s attendance was announced as just under 24,000.
“The atmosphere and the feel to the golf course is fantastic,” Singh said. “When you have so many people cheering and watching you I think you feel great.”
England’s Mark Foster, part of a group on 66, commented: “It was just amazing out there.
“I got a six o’clock car to the course and, I kid you not, there were people queuing to get in – even though the rain was coming sideways.
“I’ve never seen a buzz in the players’ lounge like there is this week. People are raving about the course and the size of the crowds.”
The three main attractions all returned today hoping for better days.
Rory McIlroy, who has missed four of his past five cuts, had a 70, but three-putted two of his last three holes for that and dropped outside the top 50.
Open champion Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell had to settle for 71s and will probably have to improve on that to survive through to the weekend.
Clarke has not made a cut all season and has only one more tournament after this before he goes to Royal Lytham to defend his title.