You could tell she had no idea. When Aditi Ashok failed to birdie the final hole of regulation at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in the Women’s Olympic Golf competition, a putt that would have put the 23-year-old from India into a playoff for the Silver and Bronze medal, her shoulders fell and the smile that has captured the hearts of millions vanished. She thought she’d blown it. She even said afterward, “Finishing fourth in an event with three medals kind of sucks.”
But without fans, without the energy that comes from intimate contact, there was no way for Ashok to know or appreciate the overwhelming response her fourth-place finish in the Olympics had in her home country. She hadn’t seen the tweets; hadn’t heard the commentary on the world feed; hadn’t read reports of the countless Indians who got up at 3 a.m. to follow a sport many of them had never watched. Ashok didn’t know that she was the top-trending topic on Twitter in India or that she was the fifth-ranked Twitter topic in the world. She didn’t initially see the messages from athletes, Bollywood stars, as well as the president and prime minister of her homeland. She couldn’t imagine the profound impact her grit – being the shortest player in the field and the shortest in her threesome by 50 yards – had on people. Here was a player who, by all statistical rights, shouldn’t have been in the running. Yet, there she was, her mother carrying her stand-bag while Aditi got her own yardages and read her own putts, holing one critical 15-footer after another to not just stay in touch with the contenders but to be tied for the lead with 11 holes left to play.
Ashok was Rocky Balboa of these Olympic Games, the player plucked from obscurity that everyone thought would be a punching bag for the champ. Instead, we got a 15-round slugfest that brought fans to their feet.
Now, just a few days later and on another continent, Ashok has had time to take a breath and appreciate the outpouring of love she received during the Tokyo Games.
“I think it has been amazing, the amount of people that have shown support and tuned in to the last day and even the third day (of Olympic golf) because people weren't really going to, people don't really watch a lot of golf in India,” Ashok said as she prepared to play in the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open. “To have so many people tune in was amazing and I'm thankful for the support. With my finish, with big superstars in sports in India tweeting about it, and the prime minister and president tweeting about it, it was awesome and cool to see that my performance at the Olympics had such a big effect on golf in India and people hearing about it and Googling it.
“Obviously, you don't think a fourth place at a regular tournament is ever going to do that. It shows how much golf in the Olympics can grow the sport, especially in India where the population is huge, but the golf community is very small.
“To make that community bigger and introduce kids to the sport, or even have kids or people curious about golf and maybe want to try it, that in itself is amazing. And to see it on social media is amazing. My followership blew up a lot. I didn't expect it to grow as big as it did. It was all good to see.”
For perspective, Ashok’s Twitter following grew 204% during the Olympics and her Instagram following exploded by 873%.
“India is changing now, slowly,” she said. “It's trying to have athletes go to the Olympics to win medals.”
But she also understands that lightning, even in a bottle, flashes fast. And the fame of last week will last only as long as her next tee shot.
“The thing about golf, no matter what you did last week, it's a new week whether you played bad or you played good,” Ashok said. “It's a fresh opportunity and everyone is trying to prepare and learn the course and get ready by Thursday. That's all I'm trying to do.
“I've obviously not had the best season on the LPGA Tour so far. I had a couple of good finishes but nothing really spectacular. I'm hoping last week and the confidence that it gave me in my game can seep into my performances until the end of the year.”