Sharmila Nicollet, the top ranked Indian golfer on the Ladies European Tour, is hoping to turn around her difficult rookie season with a top 10 finish – or even a win – at the Hero Women’s Indian Open, starting Friday.
The glamorous 21-year-old Bangalorean made two cuts from 15 starts on the LET this season but will take confidence from the fact that she had her best finish – a tie for 22nd - in the Indian Open at DLF Golf and Country Club in Gurgaon, near New Delhi last year.
She rates the track as one of her favourite courses and said: “My long driving will be suited to the DLF course. Considering the event being on home ground with home crowd and my past results in DLF and at the Indian Open, with the familiarity I would say I have a fair chance to finish top 10 or hopefully win it.
“It means a lot to me and my sponsors because it’s on my home ground and is one of the biggest tournaments in India. To win it would be a dream! Familiarity to the weather and Indian greens will also be an advantage.”
Although Nicollet’s strength is her driving and she hardly missed a fairway in the practice rounds, she feels that her putting average of 30-31 putts per round is letting her down and for this reason she took lessons with Phillip Kenyon, who has taught Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, this autumn.
Injuries to her wrist and toes have affected her game and preparations, but Nicollet feels recharged having recently taken up yoga and turned to a nutritionist to add some quality to her diet.
With her mother and coach Tarun Sardesai by her side, she is mentally and physically prepared, saying: “I’ll be concentrating on playing one shot at a time, trusting my swing changes, regulating under par rounds and bringing the trophy home.”
There will be a certain amount of pressure on, as Nicollet will need a top five finish if she is to keep her playing rights for next season.
Currently ranked 138th on the LET’s ISPS Handa Order of Merit, only the top 80 who have played in at least six LET events over the 2012 season after next week’s Omega Dubai Ladies Masters are assured of keeping their cards otherwise they are likely to attend Tour School in Marrakech, Morocco, next month.
Nicollet feels that her experience of playing in all kinds of weather and course conditions will help her to pull through for next season.
“It’s been a great learning experience and an eye opener to the level of golf abroad and I’ve gained a lot of experience, a sense of responsibility and knowledge,” she added.
Looking ahead to this week’s Hero Women’s Indian Open, she said: “The tournament has definitely exposed women’s golf in India, created awareness and given the youngsters hope to put it on the global map.”
She and Smriti Mehra, ranked 147th on the European Tour, will be amongst the top Indians to watch in this week’s tournament, which is tri-sanctioned by the LET, Ladies Asian Golf Tour (LAGT) and Women’s Golf Association of India (WGAI).
Although Nicollet won the Hero-KGA pro golf title earlier this summer, experienced Mehra is currently leading the WGAI’s Hero Order of Merit for 2012 after three wins in India this season, closely followed by 18-year-old rookie Vani Kapoor who made the cut as an amateur last year and who also has three wins this year on the Indian tour.
There are 19 Indian players in the 108-woman field, including Nalini Singh Siwach, who won the WGAI’s fifth leg at DLF Golf & CC in September and will attend LET Tour School next month. She will be joined by Neha Tripathi and Tanya Wadhwa, who has come from US, among others.
A few others with an Indian connection are in the field for this week including England’s Kiran Matharu and Rhea Nair, an Indian who is based in the Middle East.
All eyes will be on 2011 champion Caroline Hedwall, who suffered an injury before winning in Austria this year. Meanwhile England’s Laura Davies will be returning to the site of her victory in 2010 when the tournament was first sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour.