Sharmila Nicollet cuts a striking figure on the golf course. Nearing 6 feet tall with long, jet-black hair and cover girl features, the willowy 20-year-old might seem more suited for stilettos than spikes.
Don’t be fooled. Behind the makeup and trendy clothes lies a fierce and motivated competitor.
Dismissed as “too playful” to be serious about the sport she took up at age 11, Nicollet quickly proved her detractors wrong.
At 15 years old, she won her first amateur tournament in her native India – by 14 strokes. To this day she calls it her most memorable win. She earned her first professional victory three years later as a mere 18-year-old on the Women’s Golf Association of India tour.
She’s won seven pro events in all, including five during the 2010-11 season on the WGAI tour, and is the reigning Order of Merit champion there.
The profile of women’s golf is on the rise in India, and Nicollet is at the forefront.
“Women’s golf is growing very fast with increasing professionals and competition as compared to when it first started about four years back with a limited field and prize money,” Nicollet told 7CsGOLF.com in an e-mail. “Now women’s golf takes a giant leap with an enhanced schedule and a higher purse for the coming (WGAI) season and sees a jump in number of events with Thai and Chinese players, and some from other countries to bring about greater competition.
“I’m looking forward to it.”
Men’s golf in India has been well established for years, and players like Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Shiv Kapur have made an impact well beyond the borders of their country and their continent. Singh was the first Indian to earn his European Tour card and qualify for the Masters, while Atwal became the first to win on the PGA Tour.
Nicollet, who shares the same management group (ISM) as Singh and Kapur, hopes to follow in their footsteps. Within the next two to three years, she wants to be playing on the LPGA Tour and within five, advance to the No. 1 spot in the world.
That’s ambitious stuff for someone who might not be taken seriously because of her looks.
Nicollet, however, doesn’t see anything wrong with being fashionable and attractive on and off the golf course.
“I love ‘bling’ and loud colors matched with my hair, nails, golf bag, clothing, everything,” she said. “People mistake me for being a model or getting ‘distracted’ with this. But I know my priorities and won’t stray away.
“A good game and with looks on my side, yes there is a lot more hype. A golfer should have a sense of fashion. It attracts a lot of people ignorant about the sport and sponsors as well.”
But to get ahead in the game, Nicollet won’t be relying on her appearance. She takes her trade quite seriously, working with noted swing coach David Leadbetter and honing her short game at the prestigious Dave Pelz Academy.
When it comes to actual competition, she is not hesitant to branch out. In addition to the WGAI, she also plays on the larger Ladies Asian Golf Tour, and this week, she’ll play in the Evian Masters, which she calls the biggest tournament of her career to this point.
Evian will be the latest in a handful of European events for the young lady whose father is French. She missed the cut earlier this year at the Finnair Masters but chalked it up to a learning experience.
“I love the (Ladies European) tour. Very competitive and friendly,” she said. “I played with top players. It was motivating and a very good experience as well as exposure to the challenging courses and weather conditions.
“Being a small fish in a big pond motivates me to improve my game that much more, away from my comfort zone being No. 1 in India. The level of competition is tremendous as compared to the other tours.”
Nicollet is hoping to be a member of the Ladies European Tour next year; she plans to go to Q School in January. Even if she doesn’t make it, at 20, she still has time on her side. She’ll still have many years to accomplish all her goals.
And do it with “bling.”
“A golfer with a good/decent game in the top ranks who is stylish with looks on her side can change the face of a sport,” she said. “Like Sania Mirza to tennis and (badminton player) Saina Nehwal in India. Michelle Wie as well.
“I want to emulate these players and give golf a facelift in India.”
— Chuck Curti