India’s top amateur, 15-year-old Anika Varma shot rounds of 76, 72, 67, and 70 to finish solo-fifth at the Hero Women’s Indian Open on October 6.
Anika shifted base to Sacramento, California in June this year to study at Granite Bay High School and learn from top coach Noah Montgomery. Mr. Montgomery has been working with India’s ace golfer Gaganjeet Bhullar (nine-time Asian Tour winner and a European Tour winner) for over four years now and has been associated with John Catlin (three-time Asian Tour winner), Paige Lee (Symetra Tour player), and Astha Madan (LET player) for a long time now.
What makes Anika’s situation unique is two-fold. First, not many Indian golfers make the shift during high school (Atwal did just that, and remains the only tournament winner in America). The second and more impressive factor is her ability to peak during a key week — difficult at any level of the sport, let alone in its upper echelons.
Playing alongside LET regulars Manon De Roey and Emma Nilsson on the weekend, she was neither nervous, nor worried about the outcome. These are moments golfers prepare for their entire lives, and she came through like a seasoned pro.
Anika, who travelled to Gurugram to play in her third Hero Women’s Indian Open after missing the cuts in previous two editions, gave her best this year. She finished not just as the best amateur but as the best Indian player among the 22 who participated and the 10 who saw their rounds culminate on Sunday evening.
Anika’s father Mr. Sonel Varma said, “Gaganjeet was a kid who I’ve known for a long time and was the one who recommended Noah’s name to me and there was much more clarity for the road ahead for Anika.”
Anika’s new school allows nine days of holidays per quarter and planning out her travel and preparation according to the schedule was a crucial part of the journey. Her father said, “Now she is playing for her school golf team too and her performance at the Hero Women’s Indian Open will definitely motivate her to be even better. When Gaganjeet Bhullar took Noah’s name we made our mind to move to Sacramento. My wife Sonal has shifted permanently with her and I travel to the USA once in 3-4 months and manage my business here and family time there. We were never in the favour of sending her to an academy, we wanted her to enjoy school like a normal kid, play golf, enjoy it, learn it from the best, and grow being around us.”
Montgomery is based out of Ridge Golf Club in Auburn, Sacramento. At 37, when he retired, had planned to play the Champions Tour and Amateur circuit, before he met his very first student at the range, which changed everything and turned him into a full-time coach.
When you ask Montgomery about his relationship with the young Indian, he doesn’t skip a beat. “She has learned to take ownership of her game. That, I think, is the way to sum up our relationship so far,” says the 49-year-old policeman turned coach.
At 15, your golf game changes like your socks. Montgomery, who has coached golf for over a decade, ponders the possibility — can she repeat this impressive performance? It is a frightening, and exciting prospect.
Her Recent Performances
Previously, Anika finished runner-up with her school team at Poppey Ridge Golf Course last month, 17th at the USGA’s US Girls’ Junior Championship, and 22nd at IMG Academy Junior World Championship in August. She also won the Eastern India Ladies & Junior Girls in May, before her move to the USA.
In June 2018, Anika achieved No. 1 position in India in Women’s Amateur Golf (Indian Golf Union). She also achieved no. 1 position in Junior Girls in India in 2017 (Indian Golf Union). At the age of 13, she won the 2017 All India Junior Girls Championship. She started playing the Indian National Circuit at the age of 8 and has been a top performer ever since. Anika even represented India at the 2019 Queen Sirikit Cup held in Australia, where she finished solo-sixth, earlier this year.
How It All Happened For Her On Sunday
Anika shot a 2-under 70 on the final day to finish solo fifth with her total score of 3-under 285 (76, 72, 67, 70). Anika shot a total of 15 birdies, 8 bogeys, a double, and a triple-bogey with 47 pars in her 72 holes of play over four days.
With her solo fifth performance, Anika is now the second-best ever amateur finisher at the Hero Women’s Indian Open, since its inception in 2007. In the same year, the best amateur performance came from Meghna Bal, aged 19, when it was still called the DLF Women’s Indian Open, its name until 2009. Anika, at 15, is the youngest Indian amateur to have a Top-10 finish at the tournament.
“I feel pretty good. I enjoyed my round today on the course. It was a good day for me and I enjoyed every part of it, I was pretty nervous in the beginning but as soon as I hit my first tee shot I felt fine. I had a good group (with Sweden’s Emma Nilsson and Manon De Roey of Belgium) today and I enjoyed playing with them. That helped me play well too.”
She added, “I was pretty consistent today, just had one double (bogey) on the 16th. Before that, I was doing pretty good and I didn’t miss a single regulation before the 16th hole, I think only that one and the 18th, which was the highlight of my day.”
Read the full coverage in our November issue here.