|“My family has been extremely supportive. My mother Billy Mehra (seated in black, above) is a national-level golfer and brother Sanjeev (seated in white) used to play pro.” About her partner Seema (next to her in pink tee), Simi says: “I'm a happier person because I’ve never hidden it — and her name is tattooed on my arm!”
Smriti ‘Simi’ Mehra doesn’t beat around the bush — except perhaps if she hits the golf ball near one! The 40-year-old lady golfer, nominated president of the Ladies’ Asian Golf Tour on January 1, emerged winner of the Women’s Professsional Golf Tour on Thursday at The Tollygunge Club. In a chat with t2, the first woman from India to earn an LPGA Tour card in 1997 talks about golf and life.
DEFINITELY NOT A QUITTER
You cannot even imagine the hardships I faced in the early days. I was dheet (stubborn) so I never asked my parents for money. I slept in cars, driving from town to town in the US playing tournaments. I’ve eaten $0.99 meals because I didn’t have money to buy a proper meal and this part no one knows about — the struggles. But I’m resourceful and resilient and definitely not a quitter!
You want a scandalised statement? I’m very happy that India has been taken out of the 2016 Olympics! In fact, I feel every single international sports body in the world should boycott India. Because if you are a politician, you have no business sitting in a sports body. The only people sitting there should be sportspersons. They speak a different language. They are not there to save their kursi but for the betterment of the game. It’s a shame that we have only one or two medallists today.
WHY TAKE UP GOLF?
In 2005, former national champ Champika Sayal and I started the Women’s Golf Association of India, the inception of the pro tour. That’s a platform where women can enhance their ability in golf and eventually make a living out of it. I say ‘eventually’ because it’s difficult in the beginning. Everyone says there are only 12 pro lady golfers in India. Why? Because you can’t go pick up people from the street and make them play professional golf. The only way to get into pro golf is if you get into amateur golf. In my opinion, not enough has been done for amateur golf. Why should somebody on a salary of Rs 20,000-Rs 30,000 take up golf? The first thing he will say is, “The equipment is very expensive. Let me buy a cheap cricket bat instead.”
I had gone to a small little town in Spain where there are little nine-hole golf courses on land half the size of a football field. It can be done. And all they had was putters and wedges — the introduction to golf. This is where the Indian body of golf has not done enough to introduce the masses to the game.
YOUNG LADIES TO WATCH OUT FOR
Aditi Ashok, who I feel has the most amount of drive and hunger, Gurbani Singh and Mehar Atwal. If they are diligent, hard-working and humble… because in this game, the higher you go, the harder you fall. And it’s not a game in which you can be No. 1 forever. Ben Hogan (famous American golfer) said correctly, “If you want to take up golf for a living, you must understand that you’re trying to perfect something that is impossible.” In the pro category, I don’t know anyone right now who will sleep in a car and eat a $0.99 meal. To get there you have to sacrifice your social life; I never went out and partied, I never had boyfriends (well, first of all I’m gay) and I never studied, I was just happy that I passed!
IF ANNIKA CAN...
When I was playing on tour and had a bad putting week, Annika Sorenstam (female golfer with most wins to her name) gave me a lesson. So if Annika can do that for me, her ‘enemy’ on the golf course, why can’t I teach my colleagues when they ask me?
QUEEN OF THE KITCHEN
I love cooking and growing vegetables. Where I live in Delhi, I have changed the garden into a kitchen garden where I grow nimbu, mirchi, dhania, carrots and salad leaves. I also want to do a one-year course in the Netherlands on hydroponics, that is growing vegetables in water. The only place I go out to eat is Bar-B-Q on Park Street. I make zero-fat Chicken Tikka Masala. Ask Arjun Atwal and Sona, I used to make it for them in Florida all the time! It tastes creamy and everything but there’s no oil or fat. But I’m not going to give away the recipe (laughs)!
BEING GAY IS NOT A CHOICE
Seema and I have been together almost six years. In the beginning it was very difficult. The person I love, why should anyone have a problem with it? The first thing one must understand is that being gay is not a choice. If it were a choice, why would anyone choose such a difficult life? Young girls are suicidal because they believe something’s wrong with them. I believed that for a long time… that maybe there’s something wrong with me. And If I got married, everything would be okay. So I got married. But that’s not the way it works. You are who you are. You can hide it for so long and you will never be happy. Today, I’m a happier person because I’ve never hidden it — and her name (Seema) is tattooed on my arm, even before Saif Ali Khan tattooed his!
Accepting that you are gay is the most difficult part and my advice is please take as much time as you want.
THINGS TO DO
I want to have an academy with the right team to teach kids the mental, physical and all other aspects of the game. What Indrajit Bhalotia is trying to do with the Tolly Airtel Golf Centre is fantastic. And now there will be talent coming out of Calcutta. I also hope RGCG has such plans because I love the club and I hope I could be part of their plans. I love Calcutta and I’d move back (Simi spent her childhood in New Alipore) in the blink of an eye.
I still want to win the British Open; I’ve finished very close a few times, not just once, and looking at the Indian flag flying on British soil and having 25,000 white people giving you a standing ovation was a surreal moment, one I will always remember.
I want to grow golf in countries like Bhutan and Vietnam. I want to go to places that have no golf at all. It’s a domino effect. If golf in Asia grows, I believe golf in India will grow.