Published: Verve Magazine, Features, January 2007
His winning streak in 2006 – after a seven-year winless drought – has made Jeev Milkha Singh the first Indian ever to rank in the top 50 on the European tour. All set to make his debut appearance at the US Masters 2007, the golfer talks to Sitanshi Talati-Parikh about his myriad experiences on the international circuit
Sincere dedication and a tough fighting spirit have seen Jeev Milkha Singh emerge victorious against all odds last year. Suffering from injuries, India’s first golf superstar surmounted a testing seven-year winless drought with a one-stroke victory at the Volvo China Open in April 2006. A graduate in golf, from the Abilene Christian University in the United States of America, 35-year-old Jeev won the NCAA Divison II individual golf championship in 1993. He was the first Indian golfer to become a member of the European Tour and the US Tour. Keeping up the family tradition apparently comes easy to the sportsman – his father is the ‘Flying Sikh’ and Olympics athlete, Milkha Singh and his mother, Nirmal Kaur, is the former captain of the Indian volleyball team.
Jeev celebrated his birthday last month in a special way, playing at the Volvo Masters of Asia, on the second day at the Thai Country Club – having already won the Volvo China Open and Volvo Masters of Europe. A group of caddies sang for him, as he blew the candles on his birthday cake at the club. At the Asian Tour award function held in Bangkok, he swept three prestigious awards, including the inaugural category for ‘UBS Special Achievement’ for 2006 in addition to winning the ‘Players’ Player of the Year’ and the ‘UBS Order of Merit’.
With a career in steep ascent – his ranking jumped to 37 at the end of the year – 2006 has been an excellent year for the golfer who is currently Asia’s top ranked player. The first Indian ever to figure in the first 50 in the European tour, having recently played with the world champion, Tiger Woods, Jeev Milkha Singh talks with confidence and ease on his birthday, about his experiences and dreams.
Your father once said, ‘Let not people say you are Milkha’s son. Let them say I am Jeev’s father.’ How does he feel about your resurrection in the game?
I think I have found happiness. I am a firm believer in discipline, hard work and honesty in the sport. So far, it has worked out well. My family is pretty proud of me. Without doubt my father has achieved a lot and I feel now that I am getting closer to that pinnacle.
Both your parents are sportspeople. How did they feel about you choosing a sport that was new to the country at the time?
My family has always been very positive and supportive. They did tell me, ‘If you take the plunge, then there is no coming back!’ Whatever I chose, the aim has always been to be the best. I have been very fortunate with those who have helped me reach here. I remember the time when I had discussions with my coach in the US, talking about becoming a professional golfer – and now I have.
What change in mindset drove you to these great heights after your many trials?
It has taken a lot of mental training, hard work and I also changed my swing. Every human being is result oriented. It is all about process and routine. For me, for six years, only the result mattered. The change in my mindset has finally made a difference and it shows in my performance.
What was your experience with the peaks in your career and what have you learnt from the downs?
The game of golf is like a roller coaster. One week you are the best and the next week, you are nobody. No one can be at the top forever – unless of course, you are Tiger Woods! Even now, where I am, I know it is only temporary and the down is around the corner. One can never stop working hard and being mentally strong. It is a mind game and humility makes a big difference.
You recently played with Tiger Woods for the first time….
I was nervous playing with Tiger Woods. But he immediately put me at ease. He is really the best sportsman in the world and I felt comfortable playing with him. It is the greatest thing one golfer can do for another – make someone else relax. I learnt a lot from him, the way he conducts himself, his routine.
What do you think is the future of Indian golf? Do you believe this game can ever match cricket as a favourite sport for the Indian masses?
That is a tough question. I hope and believe that golf in India will come close to cricket in the next 10 years. With due attention being given to it by the performance of the players, enough sponsorship and more money, it may just reach its potential. If we are to do this for our country now, we need to get responsible.
Do you believe that you would have achieved what you did if you had trained in India alone?
Technically, I don’t think so. In India, there is hard work, but no places for practice. There are not enough public courses available. If the common man has to think about playing golf, where can he go? The government should be much more involved. With cricket, for instance, one can go to a park and get started, but it’s not the same for a game like golf.
Do you believe that women will find an acceptable and serious place in golf, especially in India?
I have seen young talent in our country. It can definitely happen here, just like in Japan, where the ladies’ tour is ranked higher than the men’s!
What does a man who has so many firsts want out of life?
I have been very fortunate in what I have achieved. I would like to give something back in return. I want to make this game popular, garner attention and make it seem like a possible dream to get here! One should always dream bigger and take a chance and go for it. I think with sponsorships, big tours, getting the government to open public courses and getting the private courses to give membership to young talent would be a start! In a few years I look forward to starting my own golf academy.
Being one of the busiest players in the world, how do you like living this nomadic lifestyle?
I love playing golf and it is a dream that I am following. I travel worldwide, fulfilling a dream to play well, perform well and make my country proud. Yoga is something that helps me stay relaxed and controlled. I am a huge movie buff, I’m fond of everything – Hollywood, Bollywood and even television shows. Presently, I am watching season five of 24! I love watching Harrison Ford movies and one of my favourite Indian movies is Black. I always carry a portable DVD player in my laptop bag with a 100 DVDs…!