Monday, 30th October 2017

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Shiv Kapur on the golfing scene in India

The golfer also talks about his daughter Veda and how fatherhood has changed his outlook towards life

  • Published 21.07.19, 6:14 PM
  • Updated 21.07.19, 6:14 PM
  • 9 mins read
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Shiv Kapur at JW Marriott Kolkata on Thursday Picture: Rashbehari Das

Affable with smiling eyes, golfer Shiv Kapur is your “regular guy” who loves sports, movies, running after his daughter and at least once a week back in Delhi, orders mustard fish from Oh! Calcutta. What sets this Asian Games gold medallist (2002) apart is his candour. Yes, he calls a spade a spade. t2 caught up with him at a dinner hosted by Gaurav Singh, the general manager of JW Marriott Kolkata, on his hurricane visit to the city on Thursday.

You are back in Calcutta after how many years?

I think it’s been two or three years… the last time I was here was for the McLeod Russel (McLeod Russel Tour Championship at Royal Calcutta Golf Club). Before that it had probably been at least 10-15 years. I have very fond memories in Calcutta. I won my all-India junior championship (All India Junior Golf Championship) here and I think post that the first time I came to play, I played a professional tournament in my debut season which was 2004 and I still remember I lost in the play-off and then I had to leave that same night from Calcutta to play Asian Tour Qualifying School. The only sweet memory I have is that after losing the play-off, I got my card on the Asian Tour and kind of never looked back.

What do you think of the golfing culture and the greens in Calcutta?

It is obviously steeped in a lot of history. Royal (RCGC) to me is the hidden gem of Indian golf. The original set-up was fantastic and then they have made certain changes. They have kept the tradition alive yet modernised it. They have cleaned it up a bit; you obviously don’t see the buffalos in the water hyacinths any more (laughs), but that also has a charm of its own.

A lot of great golfers have played at the Royal over the years. Charl Schwartzel has played the all-India amateur here. All they remember is Royal… what a great golf course. I have probably played at over 500 golf courses around the world... Royal sticks in your memory for different reasons.

Who are your friends from the golfing circuit in Calcutta?

I called SSP (Chawrasia) when I landed. He is very humble… we have spent a good 10 years playing the European Tour together. So, we share a very close friendship. Three weeks ago we were together playing in Spain, in (Real Club) Valderrama and Munich and he was babysitting my daughter (Veda). In fact, the whole golfing community, the professional golfers, we are a very tight community. Arjun Atwal… I am very close to him too. It’s always great to come back.

This time it’s a very short trip. Any wish list?

I am really looking forward to eating the Calcutta beef because in Delhi we are starved for beef! (Laughs) It is nice to come to a slightly more liberal state. When I came for McLeod Russel, I had a list of places I wanted to eat at. I wanted to eat the kathi roll, of course, and the chicken kebab paratha at Royal. I love the culture here.

You are relocating from Delhi...

I am relocating in three weeks time, to Dubai. As of August 25, I will be a Dubai resident. See, I have a young daughter now. My perspective on things have changed. If I was still the bachelor I was till a few years ago, I probably would not have moved. I think it’s good for my golf to have access to the facilities I have in Dubai. I think it is good for my family life, but, at the same time, India is always home. And I see myself coming back.

I hope things will get better. There are many issues that we can touch upon that is wrong with India but every part of the world has its own set of issues. I didn’t want my daughter to grow up in an environment where I am afraid to let her out of the house because of the pollution, I am afraid to let her out at night because of safety…. As a kid, I could go on my bicycle and ride anywhere. My parents were not worried. Also traffic and from the education perspective too. The biggest issue that India has today is population. The pressure is on schools. You have to have 60 kids in a class with one teacher, but the school she is going to go to in Dubai has 12 kids and three teachers. It used to take me five minutes to reach the golf club from my house. Now, it takes me 25 minutes. But it doesn’t change the fact that India is home. Dubai is very close to home. It’s very Indian, everyone speaks Hindi. I wanted my daughter to maintain that Indian heritage. The golfing facilities are the best in the world… they are better than even in America. My wife’s (Maya) family has a history there. My father-in-law lived there for about 35 years.

How old is your daughter?

She turns two next month. She talks a lot. She knows everything. She has figured out now that my golf clothes are different from other clothes. Back in the day, I had to sneak out of the house from my parents, now I have to sneak out of the house from my daughter! Life has come a full circle. If she sees me leaving, she won’t let me leave.

We have a great bond. The father-daughter bond has really changed my outlook on a lot of things. In the morning, if she sees me leave, she’ll tell me: ‘Papa, no golf course’, because golf course means I am gone for the whole day. She’s got her own set of plastic clubs. She’ll say: ‘Papa, why don’t we play golf here?’

So, she has an interest in golf?

It’s not an interest that I have pushed her towards, but she knows what papa does and she wants to do what papa does. We get our 10-15 minutes of golf every day and she looks at the TV and says: ‘That’s papa’. If there is golf on TV, that’s papa. In her world right now, which is fantastic, papa is the most important person, the best golfer… best everything… unfortunately that is going to change and it’s going to be a reality check for me. As of now, I am in heaven.

Does she also travel with you?

She is 23 months old and she has finished the pages on her passport. She has been to 26 countries. She just did two months on the road with me. She has been to pretty much every tournament. She’s been to Greece which I have never been to.

Was it a conscious decision to travel with her everywhere?

I got married relatively late. I was 35 and I decided that when I wanted to have kids, I wanted to be a part of their lives. I didn’t want to be the father who sees her for 10 minutes a day.

Travelling with her has been tough because I am obviously used to a certain routine. If she wakes up in the middle of the night and I have a big tournament the next day... this actually happened to me at the Malaysian Open… I was two shots off the lead and she had slept great the whole week but for whatever reason, the night before the final round, she wanted to sleep with papa. And she woke up at three in the morning and said, ‘Only papa’. She was all of eight months old and I didn’t sleep the whole night, but no regrets. I have played golf my entire life and have had great experiences. I have won three times since she has been born. So, obviously, she has brought me some good luck, but it took a lot of adjustment and it continues to. You have to prioritise what you do and the amount you travel. I am playing less tournaments now. I am probably not practising as much as I used to, but it’s probably more quality.

You said fatherhood has changed your outlook towards life. How?

To put it bluntly, I was probably very selfish. As a sportsman, you have to focus on yourself. Me, me, me. Now I put my daughter first, not to say I don’t put my wife first! I think the first big adjustment is marriage because you are used to travelling on your own and living on your own and suddenly another person is in your life and you need to be there for that person. Then a child changes that to another degree. A lot of athletes have to deal with that and there is a bit of adjustment. For some people, it benefits them because it takes the pressure off but in certain ways, it requires a lot of reorganisation and resetting of goals as well.

You turned pro 15 years back. Has the journey been fulfilling?

In many ways… if you look back at anything, hindsight is a wonderful thing… could I have done this differently… would I have liked to achieve more… even if you ask the most successful golfer of all time, he’ll say there is this one tournament where I could have done this or that… I don’t look back with any regrets.

This is one sport where you lose more often than you win. You are playing against 155 other people every week. You are lucky if you win five per cent of the time. But the journey has been fantastic. It has been better than what I had expected in certain ways and it hasn’t met my expectations in certain ways. Overall, would I change anything? Probably not. I don’t know if I want to be 18 again! (Laughs)

As a kid starting out in Delhi, a 13-year-old playing at The Delhi Golf Club looking at these guys on TV and to have lived that dream… oh, one day I would like to play with Tiger (Woods) and beat Tiger… I got to do that. I got to lead The Open Championship and play U.S. Open… in some ways I think dreams did come true. I won a gold medal for the country. Very proud of all of that. But again, when those things happen, your personal expectations grow and you wish you could have done more.

I was lucky to have parents who didn’t push me. When I made the decision to play golf for a living and give it a chance, they were my biggest supporters.

Golf happened and I think I was lucky that at that time, there weren’t many kids playing golf in India. It was like being a big fish in a small pond. May be if I was playing golf in another part of the world, I wouldn’t have thought of becoming a professional... you got to represent India which was a great feeling. Nowadays it’s competitive.

Who are some of the younger golfers coming out of India with a lot of potential?

Shubhankar (Sharma) is doing great. He has got his head on his shoulders. There’s Chikka from Bangalore. There’s Khalin (Joshi) and Viraj Madappa. All of them are hard-working and ready to compete.

The most promising golfing city would be Bangalore for you?

At the moment, yes it seems that way. Even Calcutta for that matter. The facilities you have at Royal are fantastic. I don’t know if enough kids take advantage of that. I think Chandigarh is producing a lot of good young golfers. Delhi is losing its golfing culture. It’s becoming more and more a social game.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods AP

Who is the toughest golfer you have seen?

Obviously Tiger (Woods) is the greatest of our generation. When he was at his peak, he was five times better than the second-best golfer in the world. That’s never happened. To come back and win the Masters like he did, the mental toughness of Tiger is hard to match. But Tiger, by far, at his peak, you will never see that again.... Everyone said you will never see a Sachin Tendulkar again and then you had a Virat Kohli who is not quite Sachin yet, but pretty close. But the way Tiger dominated the sport, I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

The Tiger now...

It’s a very different Tiger. It’s not a Tiger that dominates. Even when he won the Masters, he wasn’t dominating.... He is not the best golfer in the world today.

Sachin Tendulkar during the 2019 IPL
Sachin Tendulkar during the 2019 IPL Telegraph picture

If not a golfer, would you have been a cricketer?

I would have loved to be, but I wasn’t good enough! Cricket is still my first love. I preferred batting. You can ask me cricket stats. Don’t ask me golfing stats! In fact, the last cricket match that I played was in February in New Zealand with (Stephen) Fleming, (Brendon) McCullum, Ricky Ponting... all the guys I grew up idolising. And, here I was opening the batting with Brendon McCullum. Ian Botham was our coach. He (McCullum) ran me out for two which I still hold against him (laughs) and then he made me bowl the second over which was leg spin because I was always a big Shane Warne fan. I bowled very badly. May be 18 or 19 runs of my over... (Laughs)

Who are your cricketing idols?

Sachin Tendulkar is my sporting idol. He literally carried the hopes of a billion people. And, I lived that. I remember the day when Tiger Woods was in India, I had dinner with him and Sachin’s manager said he would like to invite me for a drink.... The highlight of my evening was having a drink with Sachin later in his room and talk cricket. I still have a wine glass signed by Sachin.

Roger Federer
Roger Federer AP

Do you play anything else?

I play cricket and a little bit of tennis. I watched Wimbledon on a Monday and went to Manchester (for the Cricket World Cup semis) on Tuesday. I am a Roger Federer fan. Sports is a huge part of my life. I love bungee jumping and skydiving.

Your most memorable win...

The Asian Games gold medal because that is something I won for the country. That was a childhood dream. I wrote that in a school essay when I was 12.