Mumbai golfer Gauri Karhade means business at 17
Daughter of ex-classical singer Mitali Karhade and sports writer is a teen champ
Gauri Karhade was just eight when she first came across golf by accident while surfing cartoon channels on television. Though she didn't know what sort of sport it was, she was glued to the channel for a while. Later, it became a habit. Nine years on — on Friday — Gauri, 17 won her maiden Women's Pro Golf Tour title in Hyderabad.
"My first impression of this sport was about people walking in a big garden and then putting some balls in a particular hole. Then I asked my father [ex-sports writer Sanjay] about it and he told me that it's a sport called golf. I got attracted initially because of the greenery and scenic atmosphere," Gauri says at her Kharghar residence on Saturday.
Gauri didn't just watch golfers on television. She also requested Sanjay to take her to a course and gift her a golf kit for her next birthday.
"Our daughter wanting to play golf was a surprise. I enquired where she could play and how much would it cost. I took advice from my friend Sandeep Patil [former Test cricketer] and he suggested I speak to Kadubhai [Karsan Ghavri, the former India cricket all-rounder]. As Kadubhai loves golf, he suggested I take Gauri to Suresh Nanda, the director of Golfnext Academy in Yeoor, near Thane. That's how Gauri's journey," says Sanjay.
After being coached initially by Manohar Dhadwe in Yeoor, Gauri started playing tournaments and winning prizes. Her golf passion saw the Karhades shift homes often, especially her mother Mitali, to places which had golf facilities — Jogeshwari to Thane, then to Kharghar (in Navi Mumbai), Pune, Bangalore, Ahmedabad and back to Kharghar. "It was not difficult; no struggle at all [to change locations frequently]. Actually, I needed to go to better places for coaching. I enjoyed it thoroughly because I wanted to improve day by day. My parents have been supportive from Day One," says Gauri.
Gauri Karhade (right) with gymnast Anushka Pawar
While in Pune, Gauri acquired a playing membership of the famous Poona Club. In Bangalore and Ahmedabad, she was coached by India's top golfer Anirban Lahiris's coach Vijay Divecha. Currently, she is being guided by Laurence Brotheridg, who played a huge role in making her a pro golfer at this early age. "My coach Laurence wanted me to play as a pro. My father was hesitant about this as he thought it was too early, but Laurence insisted. My mom wanted me to become a pro as well," she reveals. Within three months of turning pro, Gauri won her first major title on Friday.
"I never expected this because I recovered from a hamstring injury only in June. I just wanted to play this tournament in Hyderabad and did not think about anything else," she says.
No champion is produced with a strong support system and Gauri's mother has played a huge role. Mitali sacrificed her classical singing career to attend to Gauri's golfing needs. "Mom is everything to me. She decides and manages everything —where I am playing, my tournaments or practice sessions. I have to just go and play. She was a great classical vocalist, but she left her career to make my career. She's a great confidence-booster and is never short of a motivational story to lift me," says Gauri.
The young golfer is inspired by childhood friend Anushka Pawar, a national level gymnast: "Anushka is a top-class gymnast. We play different sports, but she inspires and motivates me through her exploits. She has made me a mentally stronger sportsperson."
Of course, the kind of inspiration top international golfers can provide can never be underestimated: "There are few — Rory Mcllroy [World No.3 golfer], Tiger Woods, who recently won the Masters after overcoming several injuries and Indian golfer Aditi Ashok. India's top golfer Anirban Lahiri is also one of my big idols with whom I interact a lot. He is like my big brother," Gauri stresses.
"Vijay Divecha sir helped me a lot and without my current coach Laurence I am nothing. Without his guidance, I couldn't have won in Hyderabad. He kept telling me I have to believe in myself no matter what. I used to get very emotional when my shots were not up to the mark, but sir gave me strength to cope with those situations," she adds.
Gauri Karhade with former India cricketer Karsan Ghavri
Though Laurence was not in Hyderabad, Gauri used to speak to him daily, dwelling on her good and bad shots and finding remedies for particular situations. "Though I was behind by two shots the previous day, I told myself that I have to recover and be focussed till the last shot, and it happened. I do not want to compare myself with anyone. This [win] is for myself, not for anybody else. I compete with myself."
Tips for kid golfers
Despite being only 17, Gauri knows that she can help other young golfers. "Three important aspects for golfers are physical fitness, mental strength and top-class skill. You have to be prepared with all these three things. Fitness is vital because you have to walk for 18 holes, which is about 6,000 yards.
"There are many kids playing golf now; everyone can play it. They just need to enjoy playing golf. It's not that popular in India but if they do a little research, they will get interested, she insists.
But isn't golf an expensive sport to pursue? "What can I tell you about how costly this sport is [laughs], mujhe pata nahi [I don't know]...ask my parents," she says.
The Karhades have a few people to thank for Gauri's encouraging progress. "Fredun de Vitre, the former sports commentator and my friend Makarand Waingankar made it possible for Gauri to participate in the Teen World Golf Championship in North Carolina, US in 2016," Sanjay says. Gauri's next target will be the 13th leg of Women's Pro Tournament in Delhi starting August 26 and being a winner in the Hyderabad leg will earn her a direct entry to the Indian Open (October in Delhi), where only top 10 players are eligible to play.
In this part of the world, most kids get attracted towards cricket, football or tennis by watching respective star players on television. Gauri found her calling on greens of a different kind. The grass can only greener as it were for this rising star.
Food for thought
"I have to be very cautious about where and what you eat since I tour different regions. At a recent event, I didn't drink enough water and I suffered from dehydration which didn't help in my hamstring injury recovery," says Gauri.
Gauri's daily grind
- Hitting around 400 to 500 balls daily
- Wake up at 5:30am; practice from 7:30am to 12:30pm
- After a lunch break, nine-hole practice which lasts two hours
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