New Delhi: Winning his first national championship 14 years ago is one memory which Arjun Atwal will never forget and the veteran golfer said he can't wait to tee up again at the 50th Hero Indian Open next month as this was the title that made him the star that he is today.
The 40-year-old, who is the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour, will compete in the Hero Indian Open for the first time since finishing tied fifth in 2010.
In 1999, Atwal claimed his first major victory when he claimed a popular triumph in the Indian Open at his home course, the Royal Calcutta Golf Club before going to won win seven Asian Tour victories, the Order of Merit in 2003 and subsequently establishing himself in the United States.
"It should be a fun week. I believe the organisers are inviting a lot of the past champions for a dinner during the week, so it would a fun evening to catch up with all the guys," said Atwal.
"The Indian Open was my first win on my home golf course. I can remember every shot and every putt that I made during the final round. I don't remember most of the other tournaments that I have won but those final 18 holes, I will always remember in my life.
"Winning the Indian Open is as good as my PGA Tour win, if not better. It has two significances. One, it was my first career win and it was my national Open.
"If you don't win your first one, you don't know if you can ever win. I knew it gave me the confidence to go ahead and win more on the Asian Tour. Looking back now, it was very important for me to win the Indian Open that year."
Following a stellar career in the region, the dashing Atwal went on to claim a historic victory at the Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour but injuries in recent times have curtailed his career.
Atwal featured in the recent Venetian Macau Open on the Asian Tour, finishing tied 13th after coming off a lengthy break to recover from a back injury.
With the golden anniversary of the Indian Open being staged at the venerable Delhi Golf Club, Atwal is confident of launching a title charge to end his three-year drought.
"I've won at the Delhi Golf Club as well," said Atwal, referring to his victory at the Hero Honda Masters in 2003.
"I like it. I've always played well there. I've got Ali Sher's brother as my caddie for the Hero Indian Open and he knows the greens better than anyone else out there. He's always on my bag when I play in Asia. It will be a special week for sure," said Atwal.
"My injury is getting better. I would say I'm 80 per cent better. I won't say I'm fully recovered. My lower back gets tight once in a while so we'll see."
Atwal marveled at the new generation of Indian golfers who have now established themselves on the Asian Tour, with Gaganjeet Bhullar and Anirban Lahiri, both currently in the top-10 of the Order of Merit, leading the way.
"It's come in leaps and bounds. Back in the day, it was just the three of us, Jeev (Singh), myself and Jyoti (Randhawa). It's good to see all these young kids as they are not afraid to win. Simply put, they've evolved Indian golf a lot more," said Atwal.
He also paid tribute to the Asian Tour which is celebrating its milestone 10th season in 2013.
"It means everything," said Atwal of his home Tour.
"This was where we started. It gave us the opportunity at the right time when we were young to learn how to do everything in golf - make cuts, travel around Asia and win.
"It was so much fun as it was a tight family tour. We all travelled together, everyone knew everybody. It was a lot of fun. There is no way of saying which tour is better but for me, it's the most fun tour that I have played on," he said.