Meet Pratima Sherpa, the teen golfer making history for Nepal
By George Ramsay, (CNN): Tucked between the third green and the fourth tee of the Royal Nepal Golf Club in Kathmandu, there is a maintenance shed.
Smaller than most household bathrooms in the US, this shed is home to a family of three. The parents work on the golf course, while the daughter — in between studying and tending to a small flock of animals — plays golf.
But this isn’t any golfer. Pratima Sherpa is the best female golfer in Nepal.
And when she plays, locals press against the fence surrounding the course, eager to catch sight of the 18-year-old breezing so effortlessly between holes.
Sherpa has become something of a Nepalese celebrity. Having climbed to the top of the women’s national rankings, she now harbors dreams of becoming her country’s first female golf pro.
“Nepal is a smaller country than most, and playing golf can be difficult for poor families like ours,” Sherpa tells CNN Sport.
“But I’ve got a big opportunity to play golf, and feel very proud and lucky that I’ve got that chance.
“I want to become a great golfer.”
Golf in Nepal: Raising the game
Sherpa has a chance to break new ground for Nepalese golf. For a girl whose family home has no running water — who first played golf with makeshift wooden clubs cut from trees lining her home course — the chance to play at an elite level could be life-changing.
A fund-raising website, teampratima.com, has been set up where members of the public can make donations to support her career.
There’s hope this money can help her secure a college place in the US with access to high-level coaching, regular training, and advanced equipment.
But Sherpa won’t be forgetting her home country — a nation with just 700 registered golfers among a population of 29 million.
“I want to develop golf in Nepal,” she says. “I will give back to the golf community in Nepal and will help underprivileged children enjoy the sport as I have.”
The Royal Nepal is just a stone’s throw from the airport in the country’s capital Kathmandu. There are a number of quirks and oddities that make it unique — both as a place to live and to play golf.
The regular players, for example, don’t use shiny golf balls. Monkeys, mistaking them for eggs, are known to steal shots from the greens.
The goats, chickens, and dogs kept by Sherpa’s family, meanwhile, are hardly safe. One of their five dogs was eaten by a leopard.
Then there’s the weather. During the summer months, monsoons are common in Nepal; Sherpa is no stranger to crunching drives and measuring putts through torrential rain.
In April 2015, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake struck Kathmandu. With buildings reduced to rubble, locals were forced from their homes and 2,000 sought shelter living in tents on the Royal Nepal. For several months, Sherpa’s home became a refugee camp.
Same sport, different game
While this life may appear an anomaly within the sport of golf as most know it, Sherpa shares the same dreams and heroes as any aspiring professional.
She admires Rory McIlroy, and on the women’s side Michelle Wie; Tiger Woods has written her a letter of encouragement which, says Sherpa, shows he “believes in my game.”
Oliver Horovitz, an author, journalist, and golf caddy who met Sherpa at the Royal Nepal Golf Club and founded the fund-raising campaign, has high hopes this 18-year-old can become an unlikely face amongst golf’s elite.
“Golf has this history of exclusivity and really a sort of sad, restrictive path,” Horovitz tells CNN. “In a lot of countries, it’s a rich person’s game.
“The whole of Nepal has got excited about Pratima. They’re so proud of her, and so supportive. It’s really wonderful to see.
“She’s an amazing spokesperson and an amazing icon for Nepali golf, and more generally for Nepal and women in Nepal.”
Sherpa recently spent five weeks in the US, her first exposure of playing golf outside Nepal.
Coming from a country with just four courses and several hundred registered players, she was thrown into a country at the forefront of the women’s game, home to four of the five major tournaments and over a third of the world’s top 100 players.
Undaunted, Sherpa competed in five regional tournaments in California, winning one of them and finishing in the top six of two others.
“In the US there are so many courses with so many different designs,” says Sherpa. “Some courses were very challenging, but it was important to go so I could learn more about my game and how it compares with the level in the US.”
‘A joy for every single shot’
Her attitude towards the game in the US caught the eye of golf coach Don Parsons, who instructed Sherpa in between tournaments. A coach since 1992, he has helped junior players in California progress through the ranks.
“I find it amazing that she gets so much joy from the game,” Parsons tells CNN. “She clearly absolutely loves hitting golf shots.
“She has an amazing opportunity to really influence a ton of kids over in Kathmandu, to do great things. She’s inspiring a generation of kids over there.”
Equal to Sherpa’s deep love for the game is her desire to improve — and that, explains Parsons, is what really set her apart.
“Her face lit up every time she did something different to improve her game.
“Any competitive golfer that wants to be on the world stage is working hard. Not all of them have that joy for every single shot they hit.
“I thought that was a pretty striking difference from Pratima and other young players.”