New Delhi:Jeev Milkha Singh said on NDTV last week that even he's a bit surprised that no big sponsorship has come his way despite him being rated as the Indian sportsman of the year for 2006 by most channels and newspapers.
Most non-cricket sportspeople with the exception of Sania Mirza have always had a problem luring sponsors but golf is a unique case. The sponsors are coming in droves to organise events but not to sponsor individuals.
Now golf is certainly one of the fast growing sports in the country. Indian players are doing well internationally, there's more media coverage of golf in the country and big international tournaments now being hosted in India.
But the big questions are: How come a golfer isn't the face of a single brand in the country and is it enough for a corporate to sponsor golfing events but not the players participating?
But even today, other sports have it battle it out versus cricket for sponsorship and endorsements. Hero Honda may have sponsored the half a million dollar Hero Honda Indian open but when it comes to having a golfer endorse their products on television, they have a different take.
"The mass out there are watching cricket and that's what they want to see on the products that they buy, there are still not that many people watching the game of golf," said Pawan Munjal, MD, Hero Honda.
Some hard talking from the Indian Open sponsors, but its a thought echoed by this year's winner Jyoti Randhawa who completed a hat trick of Indian open titles on Sunday.
He and Jeev Milkha Singh remain unknown commodities that have barely any buyers in India. Both realise it will take more than just a few pieces of silverware to improve their stock in the sponsorship world.
"India became the world champion and that's how cricket caught on, so we need a world champion here and another 5-10 years down the line, someone becomes a world champion, golf will become a big game in india," said Jyoti Randhawa.
Last year the professional circuit in India offered around Rs 4.6 crores in prize money, with companies like BILT, Crompton greaves & Emaar MGF sponsoring high profile tournaments. The calender for 2007 is even busier and its being hoped that more events will translate into more individual sponsorship.
"Golfers are not as visible or marketable as the crickters in India but it's changing, people now know who is a Jeev Milkha Singh, a Jyoti Randhawa or an Arjun Atwal is now, compared to the members of the football or hockey team," said Gaurav Ghei.
So there may soon come a time when you get to see golfers like Jeev Milkha Singh or Jyoti Randhawa on a bike beside Hritik Roshan in the next 'Karisma' advertisement but till then let's hope that some of the money that sponsors are putting into golf events also trickles down to India's budding golfers.