28 Apr 2017
9 min read
Pratima Sherpa's love for golf can be discerned from the collection in her trophy cabinet, which also includes a framed letter from Tiger Woods. Bornand raised in a maintenance shed of the Royal Nepal Golf course, where her parents work, Sherpa was exposed to golf from an early age, and today, the 18-year-old is known as the country’s first female golf professional.
Breaking the stereotype, Sherpa has proven that sports is the ultimate equaliser—if you have the talent and persistence, it doesn’t matter what background you come from or even what your gender is: your talent is what defines you. In this interview with Alok Thapa of VMAG, Sherpa talks about her journey on the golf course, the challenges she has had to face till date and her only mission now—to participate in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (PGA) Tour.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
I was born here at the Royal Nepal Golf Course, and my earliest, and fondest, memories are associated with the rolling green slopes dotted with golfers. There is something magical about the way golfers strike the ball, the way they hit the perfect swing—like somebody once said, golfing is like poetry in motion. There is something about the game of golf that few will understand until they actually step onto the course and take their first shot.
Walk us through your day.
I grew up with my parents in a hut shared with lawn mowers and other maintenance equipment. Right now,our family includes a couple of goats,10 chickens, a cat and two dogs. Growing up, my parents would leave me with the children of other workers as they went about tending to chores around the golf course. Nothing made me happier than watching people play golf. Like I said, I found golfing magical, and it always drew me in. Later,we would mimic the game with wooden sticks, hitting the balls we had salvaged from the rough and copying the swing from watching golfers. I was a child who had found her bliss.
How did your parents react to your budding interest in golf?
The proximity to the golf course meant the children were bound to be influenced by what was happening around them. It was just that while many of them outgrew the wholestick-and-ball routine, I kept going at it. I think my parents were more worried that I might get hit by a rogueball. For the most part they took it light-heartedly, but when I started getting a little serious about the sport,my father was a little hesitant because golf has always been referred to as an elitist sport.
From playing with wooden sticks to actually holding a golf club, how did this leap occur?
We were going about our daily routine of swinging our wooden sticks, hitting balls, playing our make-believe game when I was spotted by the President of Nepal Golf Association, Tashi Ghale. He is very passionate about cultivating a golfing culture amongst the youth, and it was he who invited me to the junior programme run by the club. I still remember that day: I was 11 years old, it was a lovely Saturday afternoon, 2 pm to be precise, when I got to hold my first metal golf club.That night I couldn’t sleep. I was too excited.
Like you said, golf is generally associated with the elite; have you had moments of self-doubt?
It’s not that I turned a blind eye towards the divide between me, and say,somebody from a different socio-economic background; but did I let that affect me? No. I’m really grateful to my parents for raising me with a healthy self-esteem and a normal lifestyle—proper meals, good education, a happy childhood. I also happen to have a wonderful human being as my coach, Sachin Prasad Bhattarai, who has been nothing but a true pillar of support in all of my golfing endeavours.
What were some of the challenges you have had to face?
As it is with many Nepali golfers, for me too, it was not easy to procure all the gear needed for the game. We used to share the club so that everyone of us would get a chance to hit the ball. We didn’t have gloves so we would end up having blisters—just holding the club would become a stinging challenge. Also, I didn’t have proper footwear as well and walking on the well-kempt grass would be quite difficult as it would be extremely slippery. However, all the hardships I’ve faced have made me appreciate what I have today, and they have shaped my perception of golfing.
How did the change in your parents’ mindset come about?
For this, I will always be indebted to my coach, who saw something in me during my juniors programme run by the club. He somehow convinced my parents and offered to coach me for free. He also persuaded one of the club members to give me an old set of clubs. Of course, father had laid down a condition—education had to come first. That’s why I took a six months’ gap from golf when I was taking my board exams. It can be hard at times to balance the two, as golf can be addictive.
Why is it so addictive?
You see golf isn’t just about picking up a club and competing to hole more putts—it is much more than that. It’s a process that includes a lot of planning, like picking the right club, and mapping the trajectory and the distance of the ball. For me, there’s nothing more exhilarating than tracking the ball when you make a long shot.
How do you manage the time?
I’m very clear about my future goals,and it all boils down to prioritising. I know I have to practise every day to sharpen my game, but that said, I’m not leaving anything to chance: having a degree will provide me with a fall-back option. My day begins at the crack of dawn. I help my mom take care of the chickens and goats—they help supplement our family’s income. I finish any leftover school assignments, and by 7 am, I’m at the golf course practising for at least two hours before I head to college. My eyes are set on becoming a professional golfer, so I’m currently working with my coach, four days a week, for pre-qualifier matches to get a pro-card. You can never have enough or too much practice when it comes to golf, or anything in life.
What are your plans after finishing your class 12 board exams?
After I finish my exams, which are just around the corner, I plan to dedicate at least six months to polishing my golfing skills. For my undergraduate level, I want to study Golf Management.I don’t want to be just some trophy-collecting golfer. Just like my coach, who has dedicated his life to coaching under-privileged kids like me, I want to play a part in improving Nepal’s golf scene and improving the quality of the game.
How’s the participation of girls in the Nepali golf scene?
People here still regard sports as a recreational indulgence, and for women,embracing sports as a career option is a long shot. This is quite evident when we talk about female golfers in Nepal. I wish I had more competition, because that’s the only way I can bring out the best in me and my game. But I fill that gap by practising with male golfers,who were quite wary of playing against a female at first, but now I get regular invitations from them for matches. This is also one of the driving forces behind my desire to play in an international arena. I want to show the world, and the girls in our country, that Nepali women can be golfers who are on par with the international players.
Who’s your favourite golfer?
The one and only Tiger Woods. It is my dream to become a professional golfer and hopefully travel the world, but meeting Woods would be the cherry on top. In the past seven years, I have managed to fill my cabinet with some 30 trophies and medals, but one of my most prized possessions is a letter from Woods himself. I have it framed, and his words always inspire me to do better.
It’s been an amazing journey so far. My ultimate dream is to one day play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association(PGA) Tour. I also want to, someday, coach young kids. I feel like that would be my way of giving back to the sport: to encourage young girls to pursue their dream of playing golf and get an education.