She is a true golf lover. Even when she is not playing the sport, she is doing something that’s related to it whether it is teaching golf to our younger generation or organizing golf events. Other than golf, she has also represented her state in swimming and according to her, swimming helps her to relax and rewind. She talks to shethepeople.TV about her performance this year at Women’s Professional Golf Tour and the treatment of women in golf. Read on to know more about her and the sport.
1. You started your golfing career quite early at the age of 12 and yet you took your time to turn pro at the game. What made you take a break from it and then make a comeback?
I was very fortunate to have incredibly supportive parents who encouraged me at every turn. They nurtured my love for sport – not just golf but also with swimming and athletics. When I started playing golf in the 80’s, opportunities for professional female golfers did not exist in India. Throughout my school career, I juggled my swimming and golf and continued playing amateur golf till I left for college. Sport has always played an important role in my life.
Women’s Professional Golf gained real momentum only about 6 years ago. I actually turned professional 8 years ago when I started teaching golf professionally.
2. Apart from golf, you have represented state in swimming, which sport do you enjoy the most?
Having trained with some members of the US Olympic team in Mission Viejo, US, I realized that India could not at that time offer me the same standards of training. Swimming could not be a career choice if I was to remain in India. I did use the skills I learned to come back to train my swimming team. And so, the decision was somewhat made for me – golf became my main focus and my career of choice.
I love both swimming and golf. Luckily, they are complimentary finesse sports that require large amounts of concentration and practice to get right. A lot of successful athlete’s cross-train to improve their game. I continue to use swimming as a low-impact activity as part of my after golf routine to help me relax and wind down after a round – besides it’s a great way to soothe sore muscles.
Golf is a great teacher of life lessons, says Rani Sonti
Every time I teach or play, I gain further insight into myself, my colleagues, my students and the game. I love how golf challenges me to find areas of opportunity each time and challenges me to improve my game and myself every time I play.
3. You started playing golf at a time when not many women were part of it. What kind of difficulties did you face in the sport being one of the few?
I was fortunate to be introduced to golf in Kolkata, a city where clubs encouraged women to play the game at a time when other cities did not. And of course, my parents didn’t believe that women should face any barriers just by virtue of their gender. It was by no means easy to be entering a male dominated sport but perseverance has paid off. I went on to be the first female golfing instructor in Bangalore and I hope to blaze the trail for many more firsts for women in golf in India. I wait for the day when women are recognized in the same way as their male counterparts and compensated in the same way.
4. This year you played at Hero Women’s Professional Golf Tour and secured sixth position for yourself. How do you plan to make your position better at the sport next time?
2014 was a challenging year for me on a personal level. It is no secret that I am a cancer survivor. It took me a while to get my strength back and get on my mental game again. My goal had been to just be able to play in 2015. I was delighted to play this year and make a comeback so quickly! Getting on the merit list was an added bonus. My next goal is to play the tour in 2016. I know it won’t be easy to play with the younger players who are playing some amazing golf, but I am up for the challenge.
5. You have experienced a long time at the sport, what is the difference that you see in the acceptance of women in the sport?
Although we have made tremendous strides for women in golf, I believe we still have a long way to go.
I truly don’t think that women playing this sport are still well received in Bangalore.
Having learned the game in Kolkata, I know what it is like to be truly accepted and welcomed as equals in the sport. We in Bangalore have some work to do to get there, but get there we will.
6. You also coach women at the KGA and you are the only female coach in Bengaluru. How is your approach like with your students?
In KGA I coach both young women and men. I think it’s wonderful for children to see women coaches as they start their relationship with golf. My approach to coaching is simple – one must love the sport in order to excel. Once that love and respect for the sport is established they should find a coach that they connect with and stick with it. Golf is not a quick sport with fast returns – it requires dedication and hard work. They should enjoy themselves till they are able to handle the pressure of the game.
A good coach will assume the responsibility to teach students on how to handle themselves, the pressure and to decide when the time is right to take the student’s game to the next level and that’s when a good coach will bring in the technical side of the game. For girls entering the game, it is especially important to have a coach that understands the specific requirements for women/ girls to progress in the sport. Women/girls swing the club very differently to boys/men. As a coach I work on different aspects keeping in mind the specific needs of each gender. Being a professional golfer myself and having played this game for over 30 years both for pleasure and as a playing professional, I bring a lot more to the table as a teacher of this game. I look at teaching as the best way to give back to this sport that has taught me some great lessons.
7. Golf is also termed as the sport of the elites. Do you agree/disagree to the notion? Explain why?
Golf has developed a reputation for being a sport for the elite. That might have been true when access to golf was limited to only those who could afford a golf club membership. I think those days are long gone. It is heartening to see that golf is a growing sport in this country and now open to all who want to learn this sport. Golf comes with a lot of etiquette, rules and manners both on the course and off, so anyone who is willing to learn both the game and the etiquette is welcome to participate.
If learning manners and proper etiquette makes one elitist then golfers all over the world are guilty!
8. What keeps you busy when you aren’t practicing at the circuit or coaching young females?
I coach golfers of all ages, both men and women. In my free time, I freelance as an event manager for golfing events. Being a professional golfer myself and having played this game both for pleasures as well as competitively, I bring a unique perspective to golfing event management. I also had the experience working in a golf management company for many years so I free-lance as event manager for certain golf tournaments when required.
9. Who according to you is the upcoming female achiever in golf?
There is a lot of fantastic up and coming female talent in golf so it’s difficult to choose just one. Aditi Ashok comes to mind as being a talent to reckon with and is in the news for all the right reasons. She will surely go all the way and I do wish her well. My dear friend Sharmila is another golfer who is someone to look out for. She has been dogged by injury recently, but she will have her moment in the sunshine soon enough!
10. What advice would you give to the young females who want to start learning golf?
The best advice I can give is to leave teaching the game to the teacher. Parental involvement usually impedes in the proper development of the student. The pressure of the game is enough for young people without adding another layer of complexity. Please do find a coach that is not teaching only for monetary reasons, which unfortunately is very prevalent in this era, especially with juniors.