The 22-year-old is the youngest Indian woman to have qualified for the Ladies European Tour. Having raised the bar for women’s golf in the country, Indo-French golfer Sharmila Nicollet speaks to Archana Shenoy about her life, her game and what it takes to be a Number One golfer.
Sharmila Nicollet cuts a striking figure on the golf course. Nearing 6 feet tall with long, jet-black hair and cover girl features, the willowy 22-yearold might seem more suited for stilettos than spikes. But don’t be fooled. Behind the makeup and trendy clothes lies the heart of a fierce and motivated competitor.
Dismissed as ‘too playful’ to be serious about the sport she took up at the young age of 11, Nicollet quickly proved her detractors wrong. At 15, she won her first amateur tournament in India. To this day she calls it her most memorable win. She earned her first professional victory three years later as a mere 18-year-old on the Women’s Golf Association of India tour.
She’s has a total of 11 wins on the Women’s Golf Association of India, including five during the 2010-11 season on the WGAI tour. She’s finally qualified with a full tour card for the Ladies European Tour in 2012, being the youngest Indian golfer to qualify. Nicollet was also the champion of the Hero-KGA tournament in 2012.
The profile of women’s golf is on the rise in India, and Nicollet is at the forefront. “Women’s golf is growing very fast with increasing professionals and competition as compared to when it first started about some years back with a limited field and prize money,” Nicollet says in this exclusive interview with RITZ. “Now women’s golf takes a giant leap with an enhanced schedule and a higher purse for the coming (WGAI) season and sees a jump in number of events with Thai and Chinese players, and some from other countries bringing about greater competition. I’m looking forward to it”, she adds confidently.
The young lady sees herself attaining the Number One spot in Indian women’s golf in the next 5 years. And despite the critical comments and remarks she sometimes has to put up with, with respect to her glamourous looks, she doesn’t see anything wrong with being fashionable and attractive on and off the golf course.
“I love ‘bling’ and loud colours matched with my hair, nails, golf bag, clothing, everything,” she says. “People mistake me for being a model or getting ‘distracted’ with this. But I know my priorities and won’t stray away. A good game and with looks on my side – yes, there is a lot more hype. A golfer should have a sense of fashion. It attracts a lot of people ignorant about the sport and sponsors as well.”
But to get ahead in the game, Nicollet won’t be relying on her appearance. “A golfer with a good/decent game in the top ranks who is stylish with looks on her side can change the face of a sport,” she explains. “Like Sania Mirza to tennis and Saina Nehwal for badminton in India, I want to emulate these players and give golf a facelift in the country.”
Read on as she tackles our questions.
You have been playing the game since you were 11. Describe your passion for golf and tell us what made you take up the game.
I am a sportsperson at heart. I was a state level swimmer and an athlete but once I started playing golf, I immediately fell in love with it. It’s very challenging both mentally and physically, which intrigued me. I love the ambience of a golf course, the sophistication and class of golfers, and the longevity of the game – I can play golf for a very long time. All of these factors made me choose golf, and I haven’t regretted that decision one bit.
Who has been your inspiration in sport, particularly in golf?
My mother Surekha Nicollet has been my biggest inspiration. I’m lucky to have her. As a golfer, Tiger Woods is a true inspiration. His ability to maintain the number one position despite all the criticism and controversies is commendable.
Tell us what drives you.
To be the best in the world! I would like to be the first Indian woman professional to win on the Ladies European Tour and the LPGA in the US.
Define some of the qualities you possess that make you what you are today.
Determination, aggression, competitiveness, dedication and my extreme passion for the game. I am not unduly affected by pressure. I actually love pressure. It enhances my game! I also do yoga, get lots of help from my sports psychologist, and meditate.
What is your ultimate goal? How are you working towards achieving it?
To be the World Number 1. I am working very hard on my fitness levels, with a lot of emphasis on injury prevention and nutrition. I have made significant changes on my game and I can see the improvements. With this routine and serious hard work, I definitely think I will give myself a good chance to win on tour and be the best I can possibly be.
Women and golf in India do not go hand in hand. How do you fit into this picture?
There is a mismatch in the level of the men’s tour and the ladies’ tour in terms of number of tournaments, media coverage, prize money and general profile. We therefore have to work that much harder to gain the same amount of recognition and respect as the men do. However, it is changing and me and a few other girls from India have the opportunity to start doing well internationally, which will encourage more young girls to take up golf.
We now have top quality events like the Hero Womens’ Indian Open in India, and that will help the growth of the game.
Who, out of your contemporaries do you admire the most and why?
Ariya Jutanugarn, Charley Hull and Carlota Ciganda. I admire these women for their talent and determination to win.
What has golf taught you?
Nearly everything in my life, with emphasis on humility and responsibility.
Describe a day in the life of Sharmila Nicollet.
I live a regimented lifestyle. Wake up at 7 am, practice till 5 pm, work out till 7 pm, then chill out for a while and its bedtime by 10 pm.
Since you are of mixed parentage (her father is French and her mother Indian), how do you perceive religion?
My religion is golf. I’m agnostic.
Tell us a little about your parents and your upbringing.
My mother Surekha is a perfumist and has her own business, Padmini Aroma Ltd., in Bengaluru and my father Marc is a businessman.
I never had a normal school life, friend circle, teenage or college life. I was always traveling and had to sacrifice an ordinary teenager’s school life to pursue it privately after 8th grade. I was as good academically as I was on the course. It was a tough decision for me to not pursue higher studies abroad for university, instead I turned pro at the age of 18. I was into other sports as well, but it had to take a backseat to prevent the risk of injuries that could affect my golf.
Who are your best friends?
My driver and my putter!
What are your strongest qualities?
Humility, my happy-go-lucky attitude, my grit and optimism, bluntness, generosity, ability to connect with people from different walks of life and my contagious smile!
Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
Number One in the World.
Tell us of the ‘other’ favourites in your life – like your taste in music, books food etc.
Food – I love seafood and steaks
Music – Hip-hop is my favourite
Favourite book – ‘Bounce’ by Mathew Syed
Favourite fashion brand – Louis Vuitton
Favourite gadget – Apple and Bose
Favourite TV shows – Suits, Breaking Bad, Person of Interest, Game of Thrones, Californication, Entourage, Homeland, Two And a Half Men.
Have you been offered roles in movies / modelling?
I’ve been asked to do movies and many modelling offers have come my way. But that’s not my interest or priority at this stage in my life.
What makes you wake up each day with a smile?
I am very fortunate to be doing what I love for a living – I have great fun playing golf, touring new cities, meeting fascinating people – what’s not to like?
Your message to other youngsters?
Dream big, dream to be Number One and aim for the sky. Work and practice hard to attain precision, consistency, accuracy and perseverance to achieve those dreams.
If I can do it, so can you.