Arguably the most successful golfer India has produced; Jeev Milkha Singh has over 13 International career wins to his name. Jeev achieved a career high World Ranking of 28 in 2009, the highest by an Indian golfer till date. In 2007, he became the first Indian to play the Masters Tournament and in 2016 was made Captain of the Asian Team at the Eurasia Cup- again becoming the first Indian to do so. Jeev has 4 European Tour wins, 5 Asian Tour wins and 4 on the Japan Golf Tour to his credit. His list of accolades is long and distinguished and includes the Padma Shri from the Government of India in 2007 for his contribution to sport. Golf Digest India caught up with Jeev for a chat. Here are excerpts from the interview:
After your last win at the 2012 Scottish Open, there have been some injuries – how has the recovery been?
Injuries are always tough for a player. It’s more of a mental set back than a physical set back. Golf is all about the mental game essentially. As of now, I’m pretty fine and healthy and feeling good about my game and looking forward to the rest of the season
You’ve had a great run for twenty years playing all across the world. How has your travel schedule changed?
I have slowed down and cut down on the tournaments I play. I used to play about 35-40 tournament a year. Now I plan to cut it down by about 5 weeks in a year, so still playing a lot but definitely less than I used to. I am trying to spend more time with my family and make the most of it by playing limited amount of tournaments and hopefully do well and get ready for the Senior Tour which is in five years!
Describe a day in the life of Jeev Milkha Singh?
I try to wake up about three hours before my tee-time. I have my coffee, have a hot shower and get ready for the day. I carry a Yoga mat and a roller with me wherever I am in the world and spend about 45 minutes doing yoga. That includes stretching, surya namaskars and meditation. I then head off to the golf course about an hour and a half before my tee-time to warm up. After the round, I practice a little bit and then head back to the room for a hot shower and do my yoga routine again for about 25-30 minutes. I head to the gym about thrice a week and after the gym its early dinner before 8pm irrespective of which part of the world I am. After dinner I unwind by watching a movie or something on youtube, check emails, catch up on phone calls and then call it an early night.
My day starts pretty similarly. So after the morning yoga or gym, I come back and love spending time with my family and my two Labradors. I love dogs so I enjoy spending time with them and make the most of it when I am around. I enjoy home cooked food as well. Evening, I go practise by hitting about a 100 balls or play a few holes with my friends. Once I get back home, I get a drink with my dad and have an early dinner and call it night.
How old is your son now and is he taking to the game?
He’s seven years old now and gives it a good whack at the Chandigarh Golf Association driving range near our house so he’s basically having fun with it right now.
What needs to happen for you to get back in the thick of things regularly at tournaments?
I really think it’s a question of time. I have been playing well and feeling good about my game. This game is such that you never know which week it all just comes together and I am just waiting for that week to happen. I know I’m working hard on all aspects of my game and feel good. Sometimes the harder you try or push yourself especially when you’re playing well, the game gets further away from you. So it’s essentially a waiting game now on which week it’s all going to come together and I know this year it’s going to happen!
What advice do you have for the youngsters?
The most important thing for a golfer is to be honest in your practise. You have to do quality practise and not quantity. You have to be hungry and have that drive from within, nobody can push you to desire it. Your parents can drive you to the golf course but if you are going to spend your time chatting with friends or be on the phone and not working on aspects of your game then it’s of no use. You’ve got to feel that you want to play golf and have the hunger and desire to get better and better. Parents can introduce you to the game but after that it is about what level or standard of the game you want to reach.
I have been very fortunate as have some other players who have made a career out doing what we love. There is nothing better than having a profession that pays you and that you love doing every single day. I am still nervous on the first tee, still excited to hit that opening shot even after so many years. The day I stop feeling that is the day I will have to do something else.
What needs to happen to grow the number of golfers in India?
The first thing is that we need more public driving ranges which will make the game more accessible to the common man. For example the house help or my driver whose son wants to play golf, just can’t simply because he is not going to be able to afford a membership at a club to even begin practising. But why shouldn’t he be able to? If we had more public ranges, we will have a great number of players emerging. Once that starts happening, there will automatically be more competition and the standard will improve.
The next thing is that we need to have more public golf courses because that will allow kids to test what they have practiced at the range. Once this happens, we will have a lot more depth in the number of golfers we produce. This will lead to more sponsors showing interest and there will be more money in the game. Right now sponsorship is purely coming from people who love the game and want to keep it alive in India even if it isn’t making commercial sense to them. This is their way of giving back to the game. Now, we need to make this game more attractive to sponsors who will put money into golf because it gives them the mileage they are looking for.
Your thoughts on how the Olympics can be leveraged ?
I definitely hope that Anirban, SSP Chowrasia and Aditi Ashok, who are most likely representing India, do well. Once they do well, the government should put the money to make sure we start preparing for the next Olympics. I also think the IGU and the PGTI should leverage the Olympics and especially the players, by ensuring they receive good media attention which will help spread the awareness of the game and the fact that India is participating in golf in the Olympics.
The Indian pro tour is facing a tough time finding sponsors – any ideas for them?
I think they are in a better position than they were last year. One thing they should focus on is to ensure that more top players play in India. That will make it more attractive to the sponsors. This includes players like me, I make it a point to play atleast one or two tournaments in India, so that I can hopefully contribute to the growth of the game in some way. I also think that the players need to be more vocal and make the effort to thank the sponsors or their guests thereby creating a better image for the game on the whole. That would be their way of giving back to the sport and once that starts happening the sponsors will feel good about the event and the players and will agree to sponsor more events for a longer period of time. That word of mouth will spread to other sponsors who will start taking notice of the sport and the benefits they can derive from it.
Which sponsors and companies are you associated?
I have been very fortunate to have support from a lot of people in my career. Rolex has been fantastic. My sponsor from Japan, GMA, has been great. Pawan Munjal of Hero Group has been really fantastic not just to me but for the game. UPS, Callaway, TaylorMade, Titleist who have helped me with golf balls. Colmar, an Italian company as well. All these companies who have helped me out have been fantastic. I am very thankful to each and every one of them because they have contributed to me being where I am today. The beauty is that they never stopped believing in me and that’s a very good message for everybody that it’s not over yet!