Aditi Ashok: I lost distance due to Covid, but my short game is the best I've had

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Aditi Ashok, ranked 200th in the world, is just three shots behind top-ranked Nelly Korda of the U.S. after three rounds of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics women's golf, but the 23-year-old Indian isn't too bothered with looking at the leaderboard going into what could be the most important day of her career.

"I think I saw leaderboards on the front nine a bit and then on the back, when I made a couple bogeys, I just stayed away from it, just trying to get back in position myself and not have too many extra thoughts," said Ashok, who carded a 3-under 68 on Friday to climb into standalone second position at 12-under. "But, yeah, I saw the leaderboard on 18 and I saw it was like I think two clear of third place, so, yeah, but following, I mean if it's there I watch it, otherwise -- I watch it more on Sunday than the other days."

Ashok says she's amused by how the interest gets piqued in India since golf was reintroduced at the Olympics since 2016, where she had made her debut and was in top 10 after two rounds, before dropping to 41st.

"I think nobody really follows golf as much. It's not that they know about it and don't follow it, it's just they don't know much about the sport to know that a major is more prestigious than the Olympics. And whenever the Olympics comes around it's always because we had a lot of sports where we were actually really good, like hockey, where we used to win gold medals all the time," said Ashok, who believes a lot more people have followed the golf this time because she has been in the top 3 right from the first round in Tokyo.

Ashok missed out on a major chunk of competition in the middle of the year after contracting Covid, and believes that the resultant loss of strength has made her focus more on her short game during this week.

"I was never this short. I was always short but not like 50 behind Nelly and 50 behind Nanna (Koerstz Madsen of Denmark). That was not much, but, yeah, I think apart from the distance this year has been kind of the best I've had with my short game, my putting, the rest of my game has been fantastic, except for length this year, I think it's been one of the best years," she said.

In the past five years, Ashok has first had considerable success on the Ladies European Tour (LET), winning three titles between 2016 and 2017, and then has been an LPGA regular since. Earlier this year, she competed in her 18th career major at the Evian Championship, taking her two clear of Anirban Lahiri, the previous record-holder for India, and says her recent form had given her reason to look forward to Tokyo.

"I mean a major is always hard because it's tough to score when you hit it so short in a major, but the other events, yeah, especially at Dow [Great Lakes Bay Invitational, where she finished T-3rd], because we had the four-ball where I was kind of playing my own game, and I knew that I was playing good because in the four-ball I was contributing birdies as well. So it was definitely trending in the right direction and sort of became really good this week."

Another switch from Rio has been in her choice of parent as caddie. Mother 'Mash' is in Tokyo, with father Gudlamani, who is getting to follow her on TV this time for a change.

"It's not that my dad tells me what to do but it's just even if I know what I'm doing because I know he's there I tend to rely on him and ask him and double check everything," said Ashok.

"I think this week now that I know my mom probably won't be able to help as much with the decision making I just know I have to commit to whatever I'm doing. And maybe I have gotten a couple of them wrong, but I think it's better to be decisive than to be correct while playing golf, as long as you believe in your club or in your decision you hit a good shot and that's kind of what I've done this week."

The weather forecast for the weekend seems uncertain at this moment, and if the golf gets called off with just three rounds in, India will get a silver from one of their youngest competitors in a sport that isn't as popular among the masses as most of the others. The source of that unlikely medal isn't too fussed about what lies ahead, though.

"Yeah, I think one more day of golf and a lot happens on the final day. Sometimes the final day, although it's just one round, it feels long mentally, so definitely staying patient and hoping we have good weather and hope I play good tomorrow."

(With inputs by Charlotte Gibson)