Saaniya Sharma’s smile stems from the depths of her heart. It is the smile of a confident, content sportsperson who is comfortable with being on the learning curve. For more than a decade after embracing golf as her profession, the Chandigarh-based player has been among the country’s best. Suffice to say, she has an imposing presence.
Acknowledged as the longest hitter on the circuit, she is now working to regain fitness in time for the seventh leg in Bengaluru in the third week of June. Despite a setback in the third leg of the Hero Women’s Professional Golf Tour in Pune in February and missing the sixth leg in Gurugram, owing to an elbow injury, Saaniya Sharma is fourth in the Hero Order of Merit 2018.
Recovering from the injury, she has had time to reflect on her own journey as a golfer and how golf has helped her become a better person. “Having been away from the sport, not out of choice, has made me realise even more just how much I love it. I am sure I will benefit from this break,” she says, readily sharing her experience as a player after having given up her own dream of pursuing Marine Biology studies.
Her passion for golf started as her father’s dream but it has also been her own for nearly 15 years now, including 11 years as professional. He sold his house to fuel her journey as a professional golfer. Saaniya Sharma appreciates the sacrifices her family has made in encouraging her to express herself through golf.
“It is a sport that grows on you, and even though it took me a while to fall in love with it, I can’t imagine myself doing anything else. I’ve learnt a lot along the way. It is as close to life as it can get,” she says.
“There is only so much you can do. You can give it your best shot by controlling your internal influences and by sticking to the process. You learn to not get ahead of yourself or become complacent. There will be good breaks and there will be bad breaks. We have to embrace both.”
She has made the cut in seven of the 15 Ladies European Tour events that she has competed in thus far and holds stats that make her happy. “On the tour, it is crucial to do what has to be done without being bothered either by the past or the future. It boils down to focusing on the one shot that is to be played at the time,” she says.
“One tends to get higher expectations while competing at that level. So, I step back and remind myself that I have put in the hard work required and all I am left to do is –play in the here-and-now mode. I also am aware that I have little control over external influences – a pebble on the fairway can change the direction in which the ball rolls,” says Saaniya Sharma.
“Golf is not a reactive sport. So, I have learnt to accept what has happened. And in the time between two shots, I am thinking of the good things, perhaps evening singing a song when walking to line up my next shot. I have developed a good pre-shot routine and follow it. I learnt it late, but I learnt it alright!” she says.
She cites her experience in the Hong Kong Ladies Open in June last year as an example of holding together under stress. “I shot an eight over 80 in the first round and was miserable that night. I hovered in the neighbourhood of despair but after a while, I shook myself out of that state. I realised I had no option but to break free and play my natural game,” she recalls.
“I meditated a bit and was a different person on the course the next morning. I rallied with four under 68 and three under 69 to finish tied 31,” Saaniya Sharma says, her voice ringing with pride even as she replays freeze frame from the two rounds which included two eagles in the second round on Saturday and a bogey-free Sunday.
Saaniya Sharma also has vivid recollection of turning the tide in the Sanya Open at the Yalong Bay Golf Club in China’s Hainan Province in November last year, the only Indian making the cut for the third successive time. “After an opening round of 76, I was on the cut line, but a hat-trick of birdies from the third hole on the second round helped me avert that,” she says.
The 32-year-old reiterates the importance of being in the present when attempting something. “All my comebacks have been possible when I have stayed in the present. I can still feel the positivity, the confidence and the energy that I felt when I followed the pre-shot routine and trained the mind to focus on one shot at a time,” she says.
Of course, it was not always like this. “For the longest time I got bogged down by my weaknesses looking at my stats, instead of working on improving my score. I changed the way I set my goals, my reactions to situations and post-round analysis. So, now when I internalise, I make sure that there is no room for negativity,” says the Chandigarh-based golfer.
“I am a gentle human by nature but, on the course, I used to lose my temper because of the emotions. My caddy would feel the heat. I have now learnt to manage expectations with acceptance. I smile to myself a lot, giving myself no room for anger or tantrums. It is the best way to beat stress and anxiety,” says Saaniya Sharma, who has finished in the top five on the Hero Order of Merit five times in seven years.
She says she has been helped by Yoga and meditation. “My workout also includes the right amount of cardio and strength training using own body weight,” says Saaniya Sharma who is now an ‘A’ category teaching professional as well. “Injuries are a part of any sportsperson’s journey, and mine has only made me more determined to come back stronger.”
There can be no doubt that Saaniya Sharma will continue to make her father proud, her success in sport coming as a balm to memories of his hockey sticks being broken by his elder brother. But you can be sure that she will resume her journey with zeal because she loves her golf and is eager to inspire the younger ones to take to the sport with her own story, replete with its learnings.