“Queen of the green” as she has been called by one and all that have interest in golf in India, Irina Brar, started out quite early in her childhood to play golf. Years and years of practice and deep interest in the game made her achieve the title of the First Female Pro Golfer of India. She would have gone on to be among the best in the world, but injury issues deterred her from playing golf entirely and she quit it. However, one must learn from the spirits of Irina who came back only to encourage and motivate other athletes to grow in their sports through Sport Psych India. She speaks to Poorvi Gupta in this interview
1. How did you end up playing golf and excelling it at a time when women had little interest and clue about golf?
Ans: I was involved with sports from an early age- I represented the state in figure skating Nationals at age 4 and played tennis till I was 11. My mother was a keen golfer so I used to accompany her to the course but always found the game too slow. In 1995 we were holidaying in USA and followed a PGA tour event and I was bitten by the golf bug. Bought a golf set the following week and once we returned home there was no looking back. Winning prizes in local events early on helped motivate me even more. I have always received an amazing amount of support from my parents in any endeavour I have chosen and my golf became a family commitment. Mom would travel all over India taking me for tournaments and Dad never once complained about how expensive competitive golf is. Being an only child helped and I was fortunate to only receive support~ never pressure to perform. Resultingly I was highly intrinsically motivated and my motto was to work harder than anyone else.
2.What made you quit golf when you were still enjoying the title of India’s first female pro golfer?
Ans: I used to practice for 8-9 hours a day and developed back problems as a result of the unnatural and taxing nature of the golf swing. Sports medicine in India was not as advanced as it is today and my injuries were not managed well as a result I was forced to take a break from golf in 2008 when I was the No 1 Lady Professional Golfer in India. It was heartbreaking to have to quit the game I loved, but I chose to move on and pursue my other passion ~ sport psychology.
I was forced to take a break from golf in 2008 when I was the No 1 Lady Professional Golfer in India
3. You represented India in the Singapore Open, British Open, the Ladies Asian Golf Tour and the Women’s World Cup of Golf. How do you feel about that?
Ans: Having been a seven-time national champion in the seven years that I competed between 1999-2008 (I was injured for two years) is a statistic I am proud of. Despite limited international exposure, I was able to perform well overseas. The back injury came at the wrong time- just as I had given my entry for LPGA tour Q-School. If not for the injury, I believe I would have been competing at the higher level and making India proud.
4. Do you think that the popularity of golf in India is growing and it is becoming more of a mainstream game?
Ans: Things have really changed for golf in India. The popularity and awareness of the game is growing at a very fast rate. We need more public golf courses and driving ranges to keep up with the demand and make golf more accessible to the masses.
5. Do you think women get the same recognition as men in golf?
Ans: Unfortunately not. Even all the major championships of ladies golf worldwide are not telecast on television. The prize money that men and women play for is very different.
6. After retiring from golf, you studied sports psychology from US and started Sport Psych India in Chandigarh after coming back. How did that happen?
Ans: While I was playing competitive golf, I realised that I needed to consult a sport psychologist to help me deal with negative thoughts. Unfortunately, I only found research- based sport psychologists in India who wanted to check my heart rate etc but didn’t know what to tell me with regard to dealing with fears that all competitive sportspersons face. I consulted a sport psychologist in South Africa a few times when I went there for coaching but it was too far to keep the relationship going.
Called the Queen of the green
I was a topper all through school and college and my parents insisted that I kept my studies going on the side even while playing pro golf. As a result, when I was injured in 2008, I had already completed a Masters in Psychology. However to be the best in my field, I felt I needed to go to the best institute overseas and specialise in applied sport psychology. I completed a Masters in Applied Sport Psychology from the Arizona School of Professional Psychology in 2010. I also did extended supervised internships that lead to AASP certification (AASP is the Association for Applied Sport Psychology). It is the largest organisation for Applied sport psychology in the world, and grants certified consultant status to an elite few who are deemed qualified to practice sport psychology. I am the only AASP certified consultant in India.
7. What is Sport Psych India all about?
Ans: Sport Psych India is about bringing world class expertise in applied sport psychology to Indian athletes, by a former national champion sportsperson herself.
Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy is the foundation for the sessions. AASP has a very strict code of ethics which I adhere to in order to protect my clients. To maintain AASP certification, I have to attend annual conferences and continuing education workshops in the U.S. For more info: visit www.sportpsychindia.com
8. Do you miss being on the greens and playing golf?
Ans: I do feel wistful when I watch LPGA events on the TV. I wish I hadn’t been unfortunate with injury~ had I been fit I am sure I would have been competing with the best in the world.
But I am a firm believer in whatever happens, happens for the best. I love helping athletes realise their potential through sport psychology. My husband Sujjan Singh is a professional golfer and his victories feel like they are mine. We have a wonderful 3 year old daughter around whom my life revolves. So I would say, life is good. Once she is older I I find more time for myself, I will get back to recreational golf.
I do feel wistful when I watch LPGA events on the TV
9. Do you think your retirement from the sport has hampered women’s growth and visibility in it?
Ans: I wouldn’t be as cocky as to say that. We have many up and coming stars on the women’s tour today and I am sure they will bring the sport great visibility. Mrs Champika Sayal has single handedly created a professional golf circuit for women in India (WGAI) and we have her to thank for golf becoming a career option for women. Anirban Lahiri is a great global ambassador of Indian golf and his being in the top 50 of the world certainly has everyone focusing on golf in India.
10. What advice would you want to give to today’s young women who aspire to make it a profession someday?
Ans: I would advise them to make their passion their profession. I love doing what I do, which is why I was working for a few hours a day even a month after my daughter was born. Don’t get swayed by those who doubt you~ there will be plenty.
Many extended family members scoffed when I decided to pursue sport psychology overseas~ they thought I was wasting my time and my supporting parents’ funds. But I believed in myself and kept working while studying at college and doing an internship. As a result I am doing something no one else in India is qualified to do and sportspersons fly to Chandigarh to meet me from all over the country.
I love helping athletes realise their potential
Women are outstanding with time management~ they manage their families, homes and are super productive at work. We just have to put our mind to doing something and we can achieve it!
Picture Credit- Sport Psych India