Sharmila Nicolett: "All of India was backing me"March, 2012
We speak to the Indian star as she prepares for life on the LET
IN the middle of January, at the third play-off hole at La Manga, Sharmila Nicollet added a new chapter in the history of Indian golf.
By holing a six-foot birdie putt the 20-year-old became the youngest and just the second from her country, after Smiriti Mehra, to join the Ladies’ European Tour.
While the vast majority on the tour have come through an amateur set-up playing some of very best courses, Nicollet’s route was very different.
There are only three courses in Bangalore but, within just a few years, the then 17-year-old had become the youngest winner of the All-India Ladies Amateur Championship before turning pro and topping the Order of Merit in her first two years.
Nicollet has already collected a huge flurry of wins and, while things may be a little different this year, the infectious and very likeable youngster will not be found wanting in terms of effort.
What is your background, it says on your Twitter you are an ‘Indo-French professional golfer’?
Yes, I am half French, half Indian but grew up in Bangaolore. I started golf aged 11 but was a state-level swimmer and athlete and keen on basketball, tennis and horse riding.
I won my first tournament by 15 shots at 14 and then decided to give up all the other sports and concentrate on golf. I think I played off three then.
I am now doing a correspondence course for a psychology degree but wanted to turn pro when I reached 18 so turned down scholarships abroad.
Tiger Woods and other players quit after two years, I want to get experience on tour like Yani Tseng and the other girls. Not many finish the four years at university, I have made a lot of sacrifices to get where I am so I am very determined.
Did any of your friends play?
None of my friends played but quite a few of my family, like my cousins and uncles, did. I was in a Catholic school so nobody played golf.
There are three good courses in Bangalore. More people play in Delhi and the level of courses are better. There would be five or six good courses there.
From the age of 15 to 17 I was the No 1 amateur and won nearly every tournament I played.
Is it only the most wealthy that get to play the game in India?
It is expensive to play here and to travel but, luckily for me, my mum has been able to support me.
A couple of players were able to get entries onto the LET Access Series but haven’t had the financial backing so I’m pretty lucky.
Tiger Woods and other players quit after two years, I want to get experience on tour like Yani Tseng and the other girls. Not many finish the four years at university. How easy have you found it to get sponsorship so far in your career?
All women golfers lack sponsorship. The Indian tour lacks sponsorship – we have a six-year-old tour with only 20 players.
For me I have my equipment and apparel covered but, coming from India, it will cost a lot to play on the LET.
I joined Chubby Chandler’s International Sports Management team when I was 18 and a half so have spent three years with them and they look after all the well-known Indian men like Jeev Milkha Singh.
Lee Westwood tweeted me a couple of times at La Manga which was very exciting but I haven’t met any of them yet.
What was the whole Q School experience at La Manga like – was it something of a culture shock?
I was leading after the first two rounds even though the level of players was so much different to India.
It was my first experience in Spain and I started with four birdies in the first five holes which was incredible.
On the third day I found it very cold, I had a lot of layers on and it was pretty tough but I will have to get used to that this year. If I have a month off I will probably go and practise in London to acclimatise myself!
At home when I shoot five under and then seven over I can come back and win, in Spain it dropped me back about 30 places.
Then, in the last round, I made some crazy up and downs in the closing holes and played the last six in two under to squeeze into the play-off.
What was that like – it sounds tense?
The play-off was the most nerve-wracking and exciting I have ever felt. I put myself in a higher mental state and was completely in the zone. After the first play-off hole I managed to hit exactly what I was visualising and that was incredible.
I knew I had the whole of India backing me and it felt amazing to hole that last putt. I was so proud to be the youngest Indian to make it and a lot of people said I wasn’t ready so to prove them wrong was nice.
Hopefully more people in India can take the game up and we can give the sport a bit of a facelift.
Have you set yourself some goals to aim for on tour this season?
The ultimate goal is to win a tournament in Europe. It is a very tough tour, there are 25 tournaments and something like seven back to back so I will have to work hard.
The short game and putting are crucial, as is avoiding the big numbers if you want to think about winning.
People speak about your length off the tee, is that your strength?
I changed my coach and my swing last year, for six months I tried it on my own which was hard and once a year I go to Champions Gate to work at the David Leadbetter Academy.
Now I have gone back to my old coach Tarun Sardesai and worked with him for the last six months and he has changed my short game completely – my chipping and putting stroke are very different. With my long game I am still concentrating on what I worked on with David.
Who were your heroes on the golf course when you were growing up and who do you admire now?
I was lucky enough to play with Laura Davies twice, once when I was 16 in an amateur event in Bangalore and then at the Indian Open last year.
Growing up my role model would be Tiger Woods and he inspired and motivated me. Now Caroline Hedwall and Yani Tseng are people I would love to emulate.
Hedwall came on tour and won four times and that is really inspirational for someone starting out on tour.
I have seen Yani play when I was 15 or 16 and to see her at World No. 1 is inspiring as I was with her on the Asian Tour at the start of her journey.
You can follow Sharmila’s (very regular) updates on Twitter @missnicollet