Nepal’s Sherpa overcomes the odds

Dennis Grall photo Pratima Sherpa of Nepal holds her country’s flag at Sweetgrass Golf Club Tuesday before registering for the ninth annual Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass. Sherpa, 19, is one of two amateur exemptions in the event, which starts at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

HARRIS — The story of Pratima Sherpa is an incredible part of this weekend’s Island Resort Championship at Sweetgrass.

Put yourself in her shoes and you may realize incredible is not even appropriate for such a neophyte, in the world or in golf circles.

Sherpa, who is one of two amateur exemptions into this ninth annual Symetra Tour golf tournament, is a very mature 19-year old who has only been in the United States for six months.

She is a native of Nepal, in the tiny country’s capital, Kathmandu. Nepal is a land-locked country in the Himalayas between India and China and she lives with her parents in a maintenance shed that measures less than 200 square feet on the Royal Nepal Golf Club, where she first picked up the game. That is one of just four courses in the country.

According to an ESPN documentary on her in April, 2018, her parents earn $19 a month and they took turns caring for her as a youngster while they split work duties at the golf course.

She is one of only a few female golfers in Nepal, a country she says does not provide much in the line of athletic activities for females. “Most Nepal people don’t know about golf,” she said Tuesday morning during an exclusive interview at Island Resort & Casino. “Only golf people know about me in Nepal.

“My dream is to develop golf in Nepal. I want to give back,” she said in sparkling English she has learned the past four years and speaks better than many Americans speak their native language. “It is so important to support them and make their future great.”

She said Nepal residents believe golf “is a rich game, or for old people. “Sherpa also said males are generally held in higher regard than females in athletics and said the Nepal national golf championship was only open to males until this year when six females played.

“That made me so happy,” she said. “That is why it is my dream. It is happening in real life.”

The support she has received in this country – she lives in Ventura, Calif. with a host family who took her in this year and is a student/golfer at Santa Barbara Community College – has been tremendous. Her experience has been enlightening, particularly how men and women are basically treated as equals in America.

“Why do all this stuff for men and not women (in Nepal),” she said. “You’ve got to support all the players, not only golf but other sports.”

Her journey has barely begun, with this her second Symetra appearance. She played in the season’s third tourney, in Beaumont, Calif., but missed the cut. She was the first Nepal woman to receive an exemption into a professional golf tournament.

“I have a long way to go. This is only the beginning,” Sherpa said Tuesday. “I have been practicing a lot. I want to see the results of my work and see if my hard work is paying off. I will give it my best (at Sweetgrass).”

She saw part of the challenging Sweetgrass course for the first time Tuesday, then hit the driving range before registering to play. She received, like all the players, $200 cash in $2 bills and was told by co-director Tony Mancilla to spend it locally so merchants would know she is in this tournament.

Before that, she was driven around the building to fetch her golf clubs at the hotel, where she is staying this week. It was her first ride in a convertible, and she was stunned to see the roof drop back toward the trunk.

She has made tremendous strides in her short time in this country. She has met Tiger Woods twice (how many of our readers have ever met him?), watched a practice round last week at the U.S. Open in Pebble Beach while following Woods for nine holes and then Rory McIlroy for nine holes, and has a bag tag from that event.

Her golf cap is dark blue from Royal Nepal Golf Club, and Tuesday she posed with the Nepal flag, which is along the cart path behind the driving range with flags from all the countries represented at Sweetgrass.

Sherpa “hung out with Tiger” for about 30 minutes in Orlando, a meeting set up while she was in New York for the ESPN documentary, and met him again when he spotted her at the PGA Tour event at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles.

During the interview, she also showed a video with Tiger watching her and making some comments about her swing.

The Tiger Woods Foundation helped her slice through the red tape that enabled her to obtain a student visa before coming to the U.S. “Tiger knew about Nepal golf. Now the world knows about Nepal golf,” she said.

Sherpa is hoping to find out how she fits into a competitive field of a record 156 players entered in this weekend’s event, which starts at 7:30 Friday morning. “This is my first time here. Oh, my God.

“At my first tour event, I realized I don’t have any actual experience. I need to work on my mental program, that is the most important part of golf, and practice my short game. I’m pretty excited. I’m just at the beginning. I have a long way to go. I’m going up, progressing and progressing. I’ve learned so many things.”

She is being coached by Don Parsons and Preston Combs, and she said their approach is more technical than anything she has experienced. “We don’t have anything like that in Nepal,” she said, noting golf “is easy there. Here it is super hard. But nothing is impossible.”

Sherpa, who has shot as low as a 73, never thought about coming to the U.S. even two years ago. She said her parents were hesitant about letting her leave home but they have been very supportive and proud of her.

She plans to go home after this tournament for about a month before returning for classes.

Calloway Golf has also been supportive, providing equipment. “Three years ago I had an old putter. Now I have three putters,” she said with a huge smile.

“Oh my God. Life is such a beautiful journey. I want to thank everyone, Symetra, my host family, Nepal golf, my family. I am here because of them.”