My aim is to win gold for India at the 2022 Asian Games - Golfer Avani Prashanth
Despite being only 15 years old, Indian golfer Avani Prashanth has a number of accomplishments to her name. She was the youngest to win both the stroke and match play tournaments at the Indian Golf Union (IGU) All-India Ladies Amateur Golf Championship and is the number one amateur player in India. She also received a special invite to participate at the third edition of the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, having been invited personally by Brett Sterba, Director, Masters Tournament, Augusta National Golf Club.
In this exclusive interview with SPOGO, Avani Prashanth speaks about her journey as an amateur golfer, being selected for Global Child Prodigy Award 2022, memorable achievements, overcoming challenges, future goals and more!
Q 1) When were you first introduced to golf and what motivated you to pursue it professionally?
I started my journey into the world of Golf when I was 3 years, 10 months old. My grandparents were visiting my dad in Gurgaon, where he was working. I remember I was jumping all around them insisting that I wanted to go along too, however my father wasn’t paying attention. Lt Col Murthy, my grandfather, coaxed my father to take me along. We went to Manesar Golf Club, near Gurgaon and put me in the junior club. My father just taught me how to hold a club and swing, I swung and made solid contact with the ball. I continued hitting balls for a while and they realized my eye hand coordination was commendable.
My Father then requested Mr. Nathan Sundaram, his friend and IGU certified Coach, to teach me. He was reluctant saying she was too young at 3 years and 10 months. After some persuasion, Coach Nathan did teach me one little thing and told me to practice under the watch of a Caddy. My father and Nathan then walked off to play a round, they returned 4 hrs later after playing 18 holes, to find me still hitting the balls. This convinced my father and Nathan that I was committed and enjoyed playing Golf.
I started learning under coach Nathan initially and then with Mr. Jacob the head coach of Ikoyi Golf Club in Lagos. In 2012 I played my first US kids golf international in Abuja and then qualified for the US kid’s European championships in May 2013. It was then that Kenny Thompson, a Nigerian Golf professional, organizer of the tournament, living in the United Kingdom, called my dad to confirm my participation. When my dad showed tentativeness to take me to the tournament, Mr. Kenny persuaded my dad and said he would under write all their costs of participation in the competition, if we did not enjoy playing in the tournament.
Needless to say, it was a fantastic experience, even though I was only 5.5 years old at the tournament, I felt like I played well and I ended up finishing T15 and convinced my father that I was made for achieving greater peaks in Golf. We went back again next year and this time I finished T7 and qualified to play at the U.S Kids Golf World Championship at Pinehurst, North Carolina State.
Q 2) At just 15 years old, you were selected for Global Child Prodigy Award 2022 as India’s finest amateur female golfer. How proud are you of that accomplishment?
It feels really great to be recognized as a child prodigy, I am very thrilled. I also believe as a prodigy, it is now my responsibility to help grow this wonderful game and continue to significantly improve my performance.
Q 3) How was the feeling of being the only Indian female golfer to have been invited to the Augusta National women’s amateur championships?
It is a fantastic feeling. We had no idea this was coming. The Augusta National Tournament Director reached out to the Indian Golf Union seeking my contact details, wrote to my father and requested to speak to me. When they reached out to my father, I was playing on the golf Course, but the Augusta National Tournament director insisted on speaking to me. My father called me and then we did a conference call and then the tournament director broke the news to me. I was delighted as this is the highest powered Amateur Golf tournament in the world and I, as a 15 year old, was invited to play. I am the first female Golfer from India to play in the tournament.
Q 4) You have achieved a number of things despite being very young, what is your most memorable achievement to date and why?
I won the All India Stroke play and All India Ladies & Girls amateur match-play tournament at the Noida Golf Club in Nov 2021. We played 8 rounds of tournament Golf before I emerged victorious. I am also the youngest ever female golfer to win the above 2 tournaments plus the All India Junior Girls, in one year. That is why it is memorable.
Q 5) What are some of the challenges you have faced in your career so far and how did you overcome them?
2017/2018 were not 2 of my best years. We changed our coach to Laurence Brotheridge, went back to basics, fixed the key issues that were there with my game. We consistently kept measuring progress on the key areas and in 2019, I won 6 out of the 7 IGU tournaments I played in and finished as the Order of Merit leader and I have not looked back since.
Q 6) What are your future goals and ambitions? How do you plan to achieve them?
My goals for 2022 include finishing T-75 in the World Amateur Golf rankings (WAGR), Winning a Gold for India in the 2022 Asian Games in China. I also aspire to represent India at the 2024 Olympics and win a Gold Medal. 2024 onwards I plan to play in the LET and LPGA and become the first Indian to become World No.1 in 2026. My father keeps track of all my key playing statistics and compares it with the World No.1 and I get inspired to play better and better in every aspect of the game.
My ultimate goal is to be a world champion and inspire others - Indian golfer Yuvraj Singh Sandhu
It's fair to say that golf is not the most popular sport in India, but the country has seen its share of talent with the likes of Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal, Jyoti Randhawa, Anirban Lahiri and Shubhankar Sharma to name a few. Often associated as a rich man’s sport, golf news is a niche market which is slowly and steadily generating interest amongst the masses.
In an exclusive interview with SPOGO, golfer Yuvraj Singh Sandhu speaks about his journey as a golfer, the influence of his army background, mental health, training during the pandemic, promoting golf at the grassroots, getting more Indians to win at the highest level and his future goals and aspirations.
Q 1) When were you first introduced to golf and how did your interest in the sport grow?
I was first introduced to golf when my father was posted in Rangapahar in Dimapur. My father was the golf secretary at the Golf Club and a coach from Hyderabad asked me to make a few swings and have fun on the golf course. My mother was very keen for me to start a sport that would make me a better human being rather than an athlete. She introduced me to the sport but both my parents realized that I had a touch for this game and I was lucky enough to have my best friend with me who also played golf. Whenever we wanted to spend time, we would go to the golf course, chipping, putting, hitting some golf balls and walking around the course. Our fathers also used to play together so it was a good bonding experience not just for us but also for our bond with the game as well.
Q 2) As you come from an army background, how much of an influence has it had on your golf career?
The army has always been an influence for me and will always be a major part of my life. It has given me and my family support and options to choose different sports. In India, golf is considered to be a very expensive sport but the army golf courses that I have been to have been so supportive and upcoming that they believe in producing athletes if it’s possible. Other than golf, the army influence gives me that extra edge to not give up and push my limits. My dad is a commando and he has worked very hard in the army. The endurance that he has shown me while I was growing up, the extra edge, physical and mental fitness, never giving up, always being on top, working hard and paving my way through irrespective of whether I’m talented or gifted are qualities that have come from the army. I’m really grateful to the armed forces for this.
Q 3) Golf as a sport demands great mental strength. What do you do to keep yourself mentally positive ahead of big tournaments? Tell us about your training regime?
Golf is a game which is a game played between the five inches of the ears. It’s very important to stay sane, calm and unlike other outdoor athletes that can be aggressive, a golfer can be aggressive in training or practice but not while playing a tournament. You need to be calm and hold your nerves under pressure and it’s something that changes the way you look at golf. I have started to meditate to maintain my mental capability to perform at the highest levels. Initially I didn’t enjoy it because I felt it was a pointless activity, but knowing yourself mentally and having the ability to control your thoughts consciously or subconsciously to channel out other things and focus is a very important quality. I do take care of my mental health as my sister is practicing clinical psychotherapy and she helps me a lot with my mental health, issues related to anxiety and performance pressures. As an athlete, I consider it to be normal to be a little anxious, get those butterflies before a big or small event but controlling those butterflies is something in our control. I try my best to stay calm, in control and keep learning from others about how they keep their composure. I have mentors such as Jeev Milkha Singh sir who have taught me how to control myself on the golf course, going about entering a tournament and staying in the present. Right now, there are no upcoming tournaments until August, so it’s my off season. I have a schedule, workout and practice regime designed by my trainer, golf coach and physiotherapist and I try to stick to it as much as possible and also push myself to get better, stronger and a better version of myself overall.
Q 4) You won your maiden title in the PGTI Feeder Tour Event at Karnal in 2019, tell us about your experience?
Karnal was a memorable win and I never felt out of place when I entered that week, even though I was a bit nervous towards the end. I felt everything was under control which is something that can bring a win for a golfer. That was the first tournament where I played in an absolutely different golf course because it was the first time I played in Karnal and I just wanted to have fun. When I got back home, everyone was very happy and satisfied with the way I played the tournament and for getting my first win as a professional golfer. That one win did give me a boost but I would like to win back to back more often and I came back with the feeling that I need to work much harder.
Q 5) How challenging was it to continue training in the ongoing pandemic situation? What did you do to keep yourself in good shape?
These are really testing times. I feel the only way to get through this is to spread positivity and appreciate what you have. I have been trying to stay grateful for everything I have everyday. In December, I started a 'Gratitude Journal' which is actually helping me a lot. The way I look at life now and how fortunate I am to have this life to be able to stay inside my house and train at the same time. I was lucky that I had a few of my equipment in place just before the lockdown happened. I also have a mat which takes care of one part of my game. Just to keep myself a little more distracted from the fact that the tournaments are not taking place, I have started learning to play guitar which is one thing that is exciting right now. I have given more time to connect with my friends and family at this time as it's very very important to keep checking on your loved ones and that's the only way to spread positivity around the globe. Everyday I wake up with a feeling that if I can make somebody laugh or smile today, that will actually see me through the day. That's what's keeping me going through this lockdown. I'm sure we all will come out of this COVID lockdown much smarter, brighter and we all will be more hunger driven for our professional lives as that's also something very important. I know it's a very tough time but you have to see the best and you have to just accept what it is and have some faith and belief in God.
Q 6) What do you think India needs to do in order to get more participation in the sport from grassroot levels?
I feel that schools are very much responsible as to how a child sees the world. In our society, I feel that the people are told why don't you just get a degree first or why don't you become a doctor, engineer or join armed forces or fly abroad and get a job there. Nobody tells you that you might actually be the one to take the tricolor to the Olympics or to the Asian games or be a World Champion. People always find a way to make an excuse like I don't know if you are going to be a world champion but nobody can take education away from you. I agree with that, but I feel that if you don't try in the very first place and don't put yourself out there just to start the journey of being a world champion or being somebody who wants to be an athlete. How can you just sit back and say education is something that you should do? I think we need to be encouraging about junior golf and sub junior golf because I feel golf is a passion driven game. If somebody has the passion, it's very difficult to just leave the sport. I believe a lot of people need to invest in junior, sub junior levels and a lot of coaches also need to invest their time. A lot of schools should introduce golf and while that is happening, I think we should encourage juniors to play, encourage sub juniors, amateurs and girls just to go out there and have fun while playing the sport because you just experience a different part of yourself when you are there on the golf course just practising. It's like a different zone altogether. Grassroot levels will be just from schools or probably getting much experienced players to interact with these junior players or children in schools will help. Interactions with hall of fame players like Jyoti Randhawa, Jeev Milkha Singh, Shiv Kapur, Ajeetesh Sandhu. These players should have an interaction platform which is lacking in our society. People see it as okay, he is an athlete but how many athletes become the top five or top ten. They tried, they became champions. You need to try first to become a top five or top ten. You can't just sit back and say oh no we will educate our child. Hence I feel it's more to do with the whole society thinking that athletics and a sportsmen's life is not bad at all. It's actually a life where a child once he or she becomes a major gets to know the struggles of their lives. They actually get to know what life is. When they have a limited amount of money in their account they need to train and perform with that which is what is learning to live a life. Therefore, I think the introduction of sports needs to be more, visibility of the sport needs to be more. More and more people should talk about golf in India. People should be encouraged when they are practising on public golf courses or in stadiums. There are a few stadiums that have made a range within the stadium premises. Siri Fort has done a great job by giving a whole range inside the stadium. These things need to be encouraged by our society, government, elderly and by the people who can actually make a difference.
Q 7) What would it take for Indians to win the PGA Tour, Green Jackets and medals at the Olympics and Asian Games?
I think the medals can come only with quality practice. The quality of golf courses in India needs to be much better and they need to be equalised with the world golf course such as golf courses that host PGA tour events, European tour events. I feel India is lacking there. There are a lot of management issues in the golf club because people are doing it just for the sake of doing it. They don't want players to come out. If we have good quality practise sessions, quality coaches, in fact we do have really good coaches and trainers in India but the whole process of adaptation from the golf courses in India to the golf course in Europe or America is a big difference that an athlete has to travel and play in totally different conditions. I feel that when we start working on the conditions of the golf courses and start bringing up their quality I think we could give ourselves a very good chance and we could actually bag a lot of medals at the Olympics and the Asian games.
Q 8) As a golfer, who did you look up to in your growing years? What are your future goals and ambitions and how do you plan to achieve them?
As a kid I looked up to the one and only Tiger Woods. He has inspired me and is still inspiring me. The way he looks at the game, the way his mental strength is, the never give up mentality, he is an army kid, I'm an army kid. He was never the biggest on the field, he was never the strongest on the field but he worked for it and I relate to him personally because I feel I am on the same path and I feel what Tiger has done for the sport is just inexpressible. It's my goal to try and bring a change in the sport. That would be the ultimate goal of a golfer. If I can bring a change in the sport or I can motivate somebody or inspire the children in my city or my country just to think that one day they can become like Yuvraj Singh Sandhu or become a golfer of that level. I feel that will be my ultimate achievement and goal if I look back and see that I have inspired and motivated people just to be a better athlete and to be a world champion. To achieve that, I will try to work really really hard and play as many tournaments as I can. I'm planning to go to Europe in January. The Indian tour will resume in August and will go on till December but there's going to be a break from March. Hence, from January to March I'm going to Europe to put myself out there and actually test myself with the best players in the world. I'm training really hard and really smart, I have the best team and I feel I should be there sometime soon.
We are breaking the entry barrier and making the sport of golf accessible to all - The Golf Revolution
Legendary American golfer Arnold Palmer once said, “Success in the game of golf depends less on strength of body than strength of mind and character.” Golf has a reputation for being a rich man’s sport, unassociated with the working class or kids. In a country where professional golfers such as Anirban Lahiri, Aditi Ashok and Rahil Gangjee are few and far between, it's a sport that leaves a lot to be desired, especially at the grassroot level.
The Golf Revolution is aiming to change that, making golf accessible to young students across the country. It’s eliminating the entry barriers to create a safe, nurturing community and is training the next generation of golfers using data driven technology for wholesome development in the sport.
In an exclusive interview with SPOGO, we spoke to the founders of The Golf Revolution, Mr. Sachit Soni and Mr. Jaspal Kharbanda about making the sport accessible for kids, the challenges they have faced in promoting golf in India, use of technology at the grassroot, adapting to the COVID pandemic, it’s impact so far and future goals and aspirations.
Q 1) Golf has a reputation for being a rich man’s sport, how do you plan to make golf accessible, especially to kids?
Ans: We are making golf affordable to kids by providing free clubs. We are also creating an infrastructure in schools so that they don’t have to invest. Making golf accessible in schools ensures children don’t have to go anywhere else which also takes care of safety and security of the students, making the parents happy. The fees are also very affordable and all the classes are conducted under the supervision of not just one but two to three coaches depending on the number of students. It is affordable in every way whether it’s equipment or coaches at a deeply discounted price.
Q 2) What are the challenges you are facing in promoting golf in India? How are you overcoming those challenges?
Ans: One of the challenges we face is getting through to the education institutes, which is time consuming. The principal’s, key stakeholders and other decision makers are very busy and the procedure takes time. We use social media channels and word of mouth to build a large network of education institutes. The other challenge is there are not enough trainers in the country. To solve it, we have started training the trainers free of cost. We have caddies, professionals, retired army people who are trained and expand their knowledge to others. Apart from that, there are not many golf courses to train on. Apart from Delhi, other cities don’t have many golf courses that can be used for younger students.
Q 3) How is The Golf Revolution employing technology to make learning golf data driven and precise?
Ans: There are three types of technology available in the market right now. One is launch monitors, which tests the quality of your ball strikes. The other is sensors which measure the quality of your swing and the third is simulators which simulate a golf course in which you play in for training. We use all three of them to train our kids.
Q 4) According to you, what are the various benefits of golf that kids can benefit from?
Ans: Golf is a unique sport because the ball is stationary, all other sports are reactive. Those sports test your reflexes but since the ball is stationary in golf, you are learning to focus and concentrate. It’s also a sport with no referees, so it encourages integrity. A kid has to choose amongst 14 clubs, analyze various factors such as wind, water etc so it helps their decision making. It’s also good for networking, improving hand-eye coordination and it also provides opportunities for scholarships around the world. Golf is good for seniors as well because it’s a good way to network with others for a span of 4-5 hours and the best of deals are closed while playing the sport.
Q 5) How is The Golf Revolution adapting to the COVID pandemic with more kids staying indoors?
Ans: We have created an online platform where we host video classes and teach the students the fundamentals and fitness required for golf. The platform also enables them to talk and seek guidance from our coaches. It's a complete virtual platform for golf where they can interact and share their experiences.
Q 6) How much of an impact has The Golf Revolution made at the grassroot level so far?
Ans: The impact has been pretty considerable in a very short span of time. We have made presentations in front of 150 schools, done demos, held operations for the top 10-15 schools and there is actually a very sizable demand in the market. The educational institutions also are quite happy to welcome an initiative like this. Also, it has been quite successful in creating jobs for EWS. We have picked up people from the colleges and EW sector and trained them. We were once doing a demo and there were some street children who wanted to learn and see what we were trying to do. That's the kind of impact it has generated in the limited period of time as we could pursue this only for 6-8 months before the COVID 19 pandemic hit us. Besides, kids and parents are loving the sport too. We have received calls from parents where they tell us about how disciplined their child has become after getting involved with golf.
Also, under our Caddie to Coach Program we train our caddies from EW sector to become golf coaches and one such Caddie once gladly told us that his child will be elated to learn that his father is no longer a caddie but a coach now. So for these people to get the kind of stature as a coach is quite a big thing.
Q 7) What are your goals and aspirations for the future? How do you aim to achieve them?
We want to take the game of golf to every nook and corner of India. The sport hasn't got its rightful due because it is accepted as a rich man's sport. We are trying to change this perception along with trying to uplift the EWF sector. Another of our goals is to involve girls in the sport and change the perception of girls who feel they are incapable of playing sports. Converting Caddies into coaches is another objective so that we can also bring about an improvement in their income levels as a Coach earns a lot more than a Caddie. Our target is to reach 5000 schools and to achieve this, we are building a strong management team of passionate golfers for us to travel from city to city to the entire country and build this network of trained coaches. We have started with NCR now, next target are places like UP, Punjab, Haryana, the northern part of India and gradually go to the southern part. We have shortlisted 12 to 15 cities all around the country, initially we want to start with tier one cities before we move onto tier two cities. Hence, building our strong team, bringing the right kind of people with passion for golf and changing the lives of young people is what our entire objective is.