It’s always been her game, just not to this extent. And her current position, alone in second place just three shots out of the lead with, hopefully, one round remaining, is not as out-of-the-blue as you might think.
Sure, Aditi Ashok is ranked 200th in the world. She hasn’t had a top-20 in an individual event on the LPGA Tour all year. And in her last start before arriving in Tokyo, she shot 75-73 at the Amundi Evian Championship to miss the cut.
Yes, she is shorter than average. This week, she is 59th out of 60th in driving distance but leads the field in putting. That’s her game, just not to this extent.
In fact, none of those stats tell the whole story. Ashok has struggled this season, but not because of her golf swing. She had COVID-19 in May and June and was stuck in India for an extended period where she lost a lot of strength and length with the illness.
“Actually, I went back (to India) for a couple reasons,” she said. “One was to get a couple visas done and my passport was stuck in the consulate. So that's why I missed (the Mediheal Championship at) Lake Merced. Initially I wanted to come back out for Pure Silk and I tested positive (for COVID-19), so I was stuck for a couple weeks. And then I tested negative and it was all good. But I do think it took a little bit of strength out of me. I was never this short. I was always short but not like 50 (yards) behind Nelly and 50 behind Nanna (Koerstz Madsen).”
She estimates that she’s lost 15 yards off the tee since getting sick. “At least like 15 with the driver,” she said. “With the irons, five (yards). But with the driver it's about 15 carry, at least 15 carry.
“But apart from the distance, this year has been the best I've (ever) had with my short game,” she said. “My putting and the rest of my game has been fantastic, except for length this year. I think it's been one of the best years.”
The numbers don’t bear that out. But stats can be deceiving.
“In Dallas I finished 40th or 50th or something but I had like 15 birdies in four rounds,” Ashok said by way of example. “So, I knew after Dallas, because that was the first time that I played good after the two months off, I knew that the game was there. I just needed to put it together. 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 (the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational, where Ashok and her partner Parajee Anannarukarn finished third), because we had the four-ball where I was kind of playing my own game, and the alternate shot was easy because I did have her drives, but there I knew that I was playing good because in the four-ball I was contributing birdies as well. So, it’s definitely trending in the right direction and sort of became really good this week.”
Former caddie Jim McKay, who followed Ashok earlier in the week for Golf Channel, called her putting performance “The best I’ve seen this year on any tour.” High praise coming from someone who watched Phil Mickelson up close for more than 20 years.
But Ashok believes the best is yet to come.
“My putting wasn't as good today as the first two days,” she said after making a solid putt for par on 18 to shoot 68 and remain just three off the lead. “Those couple of pars helped because I knew my putting wasn’t as good today.”
No one watching at home could tell. There are probably a billion newly minted golf fans in India who believe Aditi Ashok is the best putter in the world.
One more round like the first three, and they might be proven correct.