October 6, 2016: When Viraj Madappa teed off Thursday’s first round at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at 7.34am in a cool 16 degrees Celsius, it was the first time in three days he had played the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon in shoes.
“Socks and shoes. That feels good,” said a relieved Madappa just before commencing his fourth appearance in the world’s most televised amateur event.
During practice rounds on Tuesday and Wednesday the Kolkata-born Indian was a distinctive sight at the prestigious Presidents Cup venue, walking in flip-flops and hitting his shots barefoot, all due to a baggage handling error.
A freshman at Texas A&M University, the 18-year-old arrived at Incheon Airport early morning on Tuesday – but his golf clubs and suitcase didn’t arrive with him. For two days he used rental clubs, borrowed shirts and wore flip-flops.
“I flew from Houston to Chicago then Chicago to Seoul,” explained Madappa whose check-in baggage eventually arrived on Wednesday evening.
“I was supposed to fly from Houston to San Francisco first but that flight got delayed by seven hours so I had to change my ticket to Chicago to make the connecting flight to Seoul. I made it to Chicago but my suitcase and golf bag were still on the flight to San Francisco!”
Madappa quickly received help from tournament officials including Lee Kyung-jae, Secretary of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation.
“I was surviving on one pair of pants and T-shirts the tournament gave me. Mr Lee then arranged to get his son’s shoes from his house. His son wears size 13.5 but the shoes didn’t actually fit me because I’m a 14 so after two holes I took them off,” Madappa said.
“I started wearing flip-flops again. I would take them off when I stood over the ball, hit my shot and put them back on. It looked pretty funny.”
Madappa is now competing at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship for the fourth straight year since becoming India’s youngest competitor at the age of 15.
A two-time winner of the All India Junior Golf Championship in 2012 and 2014, Madappa also shone abroad last year, winning the Taiwan Amateur Championship and finishing runner-up in the Faldo Series Asia Grand Final in China. India’s third-ranked amateur is now also benefiting from college golf in the US.
“I joined Texas A&M in August so I’ve just been there a couple of months. It’s really nice and I’m really enjoying my time over there,” Madappa said.
“Right now I’m happy to be back at the AAC. I’ve played in China, Australia and Hong Kong and my best finish was a top 35 so I’m hoping to do better this week.”