Our series of behind-the-scenes profiles from Royal Liverpool continues with Open Championship referee Shalini Malik
One of the most impressive debut performances at this year’s Open Championship is not, in fact, from one of the players, but from someone else inside the ropes, referee Shalini Malik.
Malik is a former professional golfer herself, having played on the Women’s Indian Tour and Ladies European Tour, yet Delhi-born Malik seems to have found her calling with the rule book. Such has been her success refereeing in Asia and Europe over the past five years, the R&A invited her to work at the 2014 Open Championship.
“I have never seen anything like the size and scale of this event,” starts Malik, who oversaw group 29 in the second round yesterday, made up by Chris Wood, Matt Jones and Bernd Wiesberger. “I know T.I.O.s [temporary immoveable objects] but I don’t know T.I.O.s like these grandstands – they are huge! I have never seen grandstands like these before. I can’t explain how I felt the first time I waked into Royal Liverpool Golf Club this week – it was terrifying and thrilling, everything at the same time.”
Malik walked the course on Tuesday and Wednesday, plotting out the obstructions and boundaries, and putting in preparations as thorough as those of a diligent caddie. Then for Thursday’s first round Malik walked inside the ropes as an observer, following Martin Kaymer, Zach Johnson and Jason Day.
“This is my first Open and my first major, so it was very valuable for me to walk the course with other referees, and also to go out as an observer,” explains Malik. “It gave me a feel for the golf course because I was petrified!”
Such thorough preparations could not keep the nerves at bay on Friday though, when Malik made her way onto the first tee with group 29.
“I was still terrified when I went out,” admits Malik, who started playing golf at 15, and earned a golf scholarship to the University of Hartford in Connecticut. “But once we were three holes into the round I was okay and I had my first ruling on the sixth or seventh hole. By then I thought to myself, I know this and I can do it.”
Group 29 yesterday was reasonably uneventful in terms of rulings. Malik was asked by Wiesberger if he could replace his ball once it had been damaged by bouncing on a cart path, which he could, and later on, Chris Wood checked with Malik before picking up his ball to identify it in the deep rough.
“He had to be careful not to clean the ball and to replace it in the exact same spot,” adds Malik, “but he knew what he was doing.”
As a former player who feels she was on the wrong end of some bad rulings in tournaments, Malik found that she enjoyed learning about the rules in depth when she was invited to attend an R&A Rules School in India in 2007. After that the Indian Golf Union asked her to referee at amateur tournaments, and Malik has not looked back.
“I absolutely loved refereeing from the start, and in fact I loved it more than playing so that is why I stuck to this,” she says. “Coming from a player’s perspective I know what it is like out there, it’s a tough game. I enjoy being in a position to help players, and to remind them what their options are in certain situations, and there is a solitude about being out on the golf course, that I love. And while some rules are complicated, they are also quite logical. Golf is a fair game, and I hope I am helping to ensure that golfers do not receive the same bad rulings that I did.”
Robin Barwick travelled to the Open Championship courtesy of Mercedes-Benz. Mercedes-Benz is global sponsor of the Masters, patron of the Open Championship and official car of the PGA Championship