Teen star on the upswing

Teen star on the upswing

Ever since Avani held a club for the first time as a three-year-old and started winning competitive events four years later, she knew golf was her life

Avani Prashanth. Credit: DH Photo

Every aspiring young athlete hopes for that breakthrough season. A season where they can make their talent speak and be spoken about richly among the fraternity. A season where they can take their game to the next level and gain the belief that their future lies in the sport. The year 2021 is that season for golf prodigy Avani Prashanth.

Ever since Avani held a club for the first time as a three-year-old and started winning competitive events four years later, she knew golf was her life. She has been tipped as the next big thing in women’s golf in the country after the path-breaking Aditi Ashok. People who have watched Avani play on the junior and amateur circuit have nothing but praise for the naturally talented but extremely hard-working and ambitious Bengalurean. 

She proved why there’s so much hype around her with a brilliant year where she touched several highs, winning twice on the domestic professional circuit before climaxing the season by doing the double at the All India Amateur Championship (she won the strokeplay and matchplay) and lifting the All India Junior Championship trophy. Prior to winning the national amateur titles in India, Avani, a fine football player, who even captained her Greenwood High International School, finished tied 16th in the Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific Golf Championship in the UAE. It was the best finish by an amateur Indian on debut.  

“When the season started, my aim was to play more on the professional circuit because good performances there gave me valuable ranking points in the World Amateur Golf Ranking,” the 15-year-old Avani told DH on Sunday. “I’d played on the pro circuit earlier and come close to winning the previous season, so I was very confident of doing well. When I won at Bombay Presidency, I knew I can succeed at the pro level. I was able to go toe to toe with the pros and that gave me lots of confidence and self-belief. I just kept riding on the momentum and I’m glad all my hard work during the pre-season, which was badly affected by the Covid pandemic, is bearing fruit. I’m now focussed on bettering it next year.”

“Having made solid ground this year, I want to build on the momentum next year. I want to qualify for major amateur golf events like the US Women’s Amateur Championship, the British Women’s Amateur Championship, Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific Golf Championship…. That’s where the top amateurs in the world play. That’s where I want to do well next season. Plus there’s the Asian Games where I want to win a medal for my country,” added Avani, sounding confident of further elevating her game.

The supreme confidence in her own abilities has been there since she demanded her dad, MS Prashanth, to buy her golf club even before she could turn four! “My dad and I used to take her along whenever we played golf,” said Prashanth, whom Avani calls her strongest pillar of support. “She kept pestering me for a golf club set. I thought it was the typical demand every kid of that age would make. I initially wasn’t keen because I thought it was a momentary infatuation from Avani.

“But Avani was adamant she wanted a golf set. My dad then coaxed me into getting her one. He somehow got the hunch that Avani was serious. So I got her one and, without any basic coaching, she just started hitting the ball beautifully. I right away wanted someone to coach and looked around but not many were interested in coaching a three-year old kid back then. Finally, one coach, a friend of mine, taught Avani a few shots and asked her to try them. Avani just repeated those for a couple of hours. We all knew that day Avani belonged to golf.” 

Prashanth quickly got Avani to train under a proper coach and her game began to improve with every passing day. When Avani was around seven, Prashanth’s friend from Nigeria and based in the UK, convinced him to fly his daughter to Scotland for a qualifying event of the US Kids Golf World Championship. “More than me, my friend was confident about Avani’s abilities. So I gave it a shot and Avani has just taken off from there. There has been no looking back since,” said Prashanth.

Avani said that trip to Scotland changed her perspective about golf and life. “Not many parents would take a seven-year-old kid for a tournament in Scotland. The investment was massive but the returns were very minimal. It’s one thing to take kids to the domestic event but another to fly to a different continent. That’s the day I decided I wanted to be a golfer and nothing else. Since that event in Scotland, I’ve dedicated my whole life to golf and my future too belongs on the fairways.”

When she’s not competing in tournaments, Avani alternates between training and playing a full round. Evenings are spent in the gym to build strength and muscle which now has made her perhaps the longest hitter currently on the domestic women’s amateur circuit. In between, she somehow finds time to tend to academics in which to she’s fairly successful.

A big part of Avani’s success is coach Laurence Brotheridge, who was with the world-famous David Leadbetter Academy but is on his own now. She consults Brotheridge online once or twice a month and inculcates those during practice at home. Brotheridge, who was based in Pune before moving back to the UK following the onset of the Covid pandemic, feels Avani is destined for bigger things and his job is primarily to protect her.

“Given Avani’s special talents, I knew a breakthrough season was on the anvil and there would be a lot of talk about her which is happening now. Apart from teaching her the skills to become a very good golfer, my job is also to protect her. 2022 is a very important year for Avani. Having gained some media attention, she now needs to maintain her high-level consistency.

“A lot of teen sensations lose their way under the weight of expectations. Although Avani is very level-headed and not prone to distractions, she still faces a very challenging year ahead. What sets her apart from other kids that I’ve worked with is her supreme confidence and resilience. Even if she has two bad rounds, she never loses hope. She’s obsessed with golf. She doesn’t treat golf like work because we all can dislike work at times. Work does get to you at times. Golf is a joy for her and that’s why she’s able to achieve so much.”

Check out the latest videos from DH:

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox