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Oliver Mukherjee pauses for a moment, considering his answer.
Eventually, he speaks.
“Yeah, it was pretty cool,” he says. “When I won, it didn’t really sink in at first but over the last few days it has. Everyone else has been really excited.”
Mukherjee, a supremely talented 16-year-old, is one of Scottish golf’s great hopes. He’s also fresh from winning the Scottish Men’s Amateur. It’s not certain but he’s thought to be the youngest victor in its history.
“Pretty cool” indeed.
The teenager from Craigielaw is as impressive off the course as he is on it, speaking with a maturity beyond his years.
“I went into it aiming to make the round of 16,” he tells bunkered.co.uk, explaining his strategy for the week.
“With the way the amateur ranking works, that would have given me enough points to reach one of my targets for the year. After that, I just took each game at a time.
“I had a good feeling at the start of the week. I played a few practice rounds and I felt like it would be a good week for me.”
In the situation he found himself at Gailes Links, it would have been easy for any junior to get carried away with the magnitude of it. But not Mukherjee.
“The key was staying in games and never letting your opponent see you’re disappointed,” he says. “In one of the first rounds I was one up on the 17th. My opponent hit his tee shot in the ditch, took an unplayable, found the rough to the left of the green and then holed the shot. That was disappointing because I went from thinking I’d won the match to being all-square on the 18th tee. Fortunately, the 18th was kind to me all week.”
Others might have been happy just to be part of it. But once again, this kid is made of different stuff.
“Personally, I don’t think there’s any point in playing if you’re not trying to win,” he adds. “That’s not in an arrogant way. It’s just the way you should play golf.
“Last year, I was playing in men’s events and I was just playing to make the cut. If you do that and fall short, you miss the cut. If you’re trying to win and fall short, you could still finish in the top 15.
“I’m always nervous. It’s just about how you handle it. I’ve got a checklist of things I do before every tournament, and I know if I do those things, I’ll be okay.
“Once you master the mental side you can reach your potential. Connor Graham is good at that. To everyone else, last year it looked like he was playing unbelievably. But it was because he was never scared of the golf course. He inspired everyone in the junior team last year and showed it’s possible to compete at the highest level.”
Mukherjee’s achievement sees him follow in the footsteps of some of Scottish golf’s biggest stars.
Bob MacIntyre and David Law both won the event at 18. Stephen Gallacher did it at 17. He’s beaten them all. One of the trio in particular was a particular driver for the young man.
“Stevie is an inspiration,” he says. “I was fortunate to play a round of golf with him a few years ago. My first hole-in-one was that day.
“Knowing he had done it at 17, that was the most special record for me.”
Gallacher, the former Ryder Cup star, is not the only man Mukherjee looks to for guidance. The other? You’d probably never guess.
While most youngsters grow up idolising Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and so on, the 16-year-old’s hero is Spain’s Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
“My mum and dad lived in the US and we used to watch a lot of golf tournaments,” Mukherjee explains. “We always used to go to the Bridgestone Invitational and he gave us a card. Then we saw him at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine. When he won in the foursomes, we were jumping about.
“At the Scottish Open a few years ago, he took us onto the range. I played with him in the UAE and again in January this year, and we have had dinner with him a few times, once on a school trip. It was really cool to pick his brains.”
Oliver Mukherjee is your 2022 Scottish Men’s Amateur Champion! 🏆👏🏻 pic.twitter.com/dPR4AqMx5M— Scottish Golf (@ScottishGolf) July 30, 2022
Remarkably, Mukherjee is far from the only member of his family who could be destined for golf greatness. Twin brother Sam is also a highly-rated amateur, while Cameron, two years younger, is the reigning Scottish Under-14 champion.
Parents Robin and Angie are always on hand with support for the trio, along with coach Fintan Bonner.
“It’s so cool to have my brothers there, especially in the same sport as I am,” Mukherjee says.
“We’ve always competed, ever since we were playing in the Kilspindie junior championships. It was me versus Cameron and Sam versus another boy in the semi-finals. Ever since, we have been spurring each other on.
“There’s also my coach, Fintan. He’s been a massive help to me, my brothers and a lot of other Scottish boys.”
So, what’s the end goal for the newly-minted Scottish Amateur champ?
“I would love to play on the PGA Tour and become the best golfer in the world, but it’s step by step,” he adds.
“That’s one of the most important things. I set goals at the start of the year. You have to set smaller goals in order to reach the others.
“If you’ve got a plan, it’s more likely to happen. But my No.1 goal is to keep getting better and see what happens.”
Images: Scottish Golf
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