A week ago, 18-year-old Nepal golfer Pratima Sherpa received a letter from Tiger Woods. It has got pride of place in the two-room maintenance shed where she stays along with her parents at the Royal Nepal Golf Club in Kathmandu. Woods wrote to Pratima after they met at the Medalist Golf Club in Florida and trained together. Pratima played barefoot on the greens.
Pratima was in New York to watch a documentary on her titled, A Mountain to Climb, on April 24. It is releasing in India on Sunday and will premiere on Sony Ten Golf HD at 8 PM IST. Someone from the team which made the documentary got in touch with one of the donors of the Tiger Woods Foundation and two days later, Pratima was on her way to Florida to meet the golfing legend.
“I could not believe that I was meeting Tiger Woods. I thought it to be a dream till Woods arrived in a golf cart. He spent half an hour training with me. I played some shots barefooted. Later, in the class, he introduced me to the trainees. Earlier this month, I also received a letter from Tiger and we have kept the letter for display in our shed,” Pratima told The Indian Express from Kathmandu.
Pratima is the only child of Pasang Sherpa and Kalpana. Most of her life, she has been on the golf course. Pasang, 63, has been a store-keeper at the Kathmandu club since 1995. Kalpana, 61, had worked in the maintenance department of the club. When she was 12, Pratima’s father made her a wooden club and that is when she started playing the game.
A chance encounter with Nepal golf Association president Tashi Dhale in 2012 resulted in the youngster being inducted into the club’s junior programme. She had to initially train with borrowed clubs. Her training sessions were early in the morning and in the evening even as she attended school. In a few years, Pratima was making strides by winning 33 junior and senior tournaments in Nepal.
“It was in 2012 that I got my first full set of golf clubs. I used to play in the morning as well as evening after my school. At the maintenance shed, we have two rooms and my parents would keep a small place reserved for my bag and the equipment. Staying at the course has always helped me since I am the first one to tee off or practise,” Pratima, who is being trained by Sachin Bhattarai at the Royal Nepal Golf Club, said.
Last year, a visit by golf journalist Oliver Horovitz at the club and an article by him resulted in a California-based couple hosting the youngster for five tournaments in USA, where Pratima won one and finished tied-third in another.
The USA visit was followed by Pratima competing with 21 male golfers to bag one of the five spots for the Surya Nepal Golf Qualifying Tour in September last year. Pratima finished in ninth spot. She is now eager to join the 63 professional golfers in Nepal who play on the national circuit.
“In Nepal, we have the junior tournaments, apart from club tournaments at Kathmandu and Gokarna. When I won the Nick Faldo Series last December, I qualified for the final to be played in Vietnam. Playing at different golf courses helped my game. I will be playing in Nepal Tour Q School later this year. I have heard about Indian golfers like Aditi Ashok and read about her competing on the LPGA Tour. She has been an inspiration for youngsters like me and the fact that she represented India at the Rio Olympics at the age of 17 motivates me. I have also heard about Ashok Kumar, who used to be a caddie at the Delhi Golf Club and became a professional golfer. In India, there are many golf courses and the Surya Nepal Masters used to be conducted by the PGTI till 2015, I would observe Indian golfers closely and used to imitate the shots later in practice,” Pratima said.
While the Sherpa family earns 7000 Nepali rupees a month, it has not stopped Pratima from dreaming. Pratima, who was five-year-old when the Sherpa family shifted to the maintenance shed in 2004, will be playing in the Nepal Q School later this year.
“My father has been working at the club since 1995 and he would watch golfers play. He thought it as an elite sport. When I won trophies, my father would show them to all his co-workers. But their biggest dream is to see me play at the Olympics,” Pratima said.
While Pratima’s mother, who used to cut grass on the fairways and greens at the 1917-built golf course, has retired from the job, her father still works at the club and proudly shows her trophies to the club members. “We met in 1995 at the club and married in 1996. Pratima was five years old when we shifted to this shed. When Pratima leaves the shed carrying her bag every day for practice, that is the biggest moment of the day for us. We have stayed here for the last 25 years and seeing her win at the junior level at the course has always delighted us. We have heard about the Olympics and we wish to see her represent Nepal in Olympics one day,” Kalpana said.
For inspiration, the family keeps reading the letter from Woods at least once a day.