One doesn’t get to hear the words golf and women in the same sentence often. A few might argue that GOLF, after all, is Gentlemen Only Ladies Forbidden (GOLF). We are sure that if this archaic opinion is put forth to Nikki Ponappa—professional golfer, golf instructor, and social activist—she will put(t) it out in one easy stroke.
Nikki Ponappa is a Bangalore-based golf enthusiast, most popular for her pro-am win at Satish Memorial Trophy. As extraordinary as her story as a golfer is, Nikki has an equally interesting story that speaks of her journey from a plush corporate job in the insurance industry to the putting range.
So, how did it all begin?
Nikki, was first introduced to golf at the age of 14-15 years by her father, who was then serving in the Indian Army. You might think golf was love at first sight for her. Well, it was anything but that. Nikki found the game painfully slow and tedious. Her heart and mind were set on – hockey.
“As I was obsessed with hockey, golf was the slowest game on the planet and I figured then that it was not that happening.” Says Nikki.
Before we talk about Nikki’s return to golf, we must say she was poised to make us proud in one sport or another.
As Nikki pursued hockey, she met with a severe injury during a practice camp for the Indian hockey team. As a result, she was forced to retire early from the game. That doesn’t mean she was off sports completely.
“Though my heart always wanted to be a sportsperson, I did manage to do well in other sports like athletics and tennis.” Says Nikki.
Nikki went on to graduate with an MBA, post which she landed a job in the advertising industry. After a four-year stint in the advertising industry, she made a jump to the financial sector in the sales vertical. Believe it or not, it was the financial sector which took Nikki back to the golf course.
“My job with a top insurance company took me back to the golf course, but this time it was for ‘business on course’. I played the sport to break the ice with high-net-worth individuals who were my clientele. Subsequently, I started enjoying the game.”
As for insurance, she loved that too!
“I must say, I loved my job as I saw the value an insurance product could add to a family.”
As Nikki clinched one insurance deal after another on golf courses, the sportsperson in her started tugging at her to be let out. It was difficult to resist the calling and at 27, Nikki put down her papers and donned golf gloves.
“The switch to golf initially was to get business off the course, which evolved to living a childhood dream of being a sportsperson.”
It’s never easy quitting a job that brings a regular income to your bank account. It requires a fair bit of financial planning and grit. We asked Nikki how she made the leap.
“I assumed that a year-long preparation before making the switch would be enough. BIG FAIL,” says Nikki honestly.
“I had a wonderful partner at that time who enabled me to make the switch. Having emotional support was far more important than anything else and I was very blessed to have that 100%.”
Since Nikki’s return to the game took a fair bit of time, she had to put in extra hours of work to match up to other professionals. Nikki covered up for the loss of years with a minimum 7 to 8 hours of practice a day. This included working on her fitness levels, meditating and, of course, playing on the course. Along with all this, she also worked at the driving range.
“It was not easy when I made up my mind to give this sport my all. I straight away jumped into professional golf and no one wanted to sponsor me, and I had too much pride to take money from my folks.”
This is when Nikki’s corporate stint came to her rescue. She used her sharp communication skills, acquired from years of working in the sales vertical, to pitch her presentation to various corporates. Then Wipro responded with a ‘yes’ for sponsorship.
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“I was lucky to get a sponsor in Wipro Global who saw golf as a marketing tool. And since I had an MBA and had the gift of the gab, I fit their bill (and mine).”
The journey to greener pastures was in no way smooth sailing for Nikki. Yet she calls her journey from corporate shoes to golf shoes in 2007 her biggest accomplishment.
This might seem like the happy ending to Nikki’s golf story, but there’s more to come.
Nikki started as a professional golf player but became a golf instructor due to a turn of fate.
“Becoming a golf instructor was initially by design. I lost my sponsorship in 2010 and ended a fantastic relationship in 2011. Now I had to make a lot work, for myself, by myself.”
In a smart stroke, Nikki made the switch to juggling between being a coach and being a professional golfer on tour.
Nikki says her lowest point in her career was when she had to switch between the two roles—golf player and coach—at a time when she would have ideally liked to only play the game.
“Today, however, I am very blessed to have made that decision. I simple love coaching, especially children, and playing on tour is much more enjoyable and better for me,” adds Nikki candidly.
Nikki says that the high point of her career has been balancing her coaching and professional roles.
“My low has been very small compared to my highs and there is no greater joy than seeing my 4-8 year old students swing it like a pro.”
Of course, we asked Nikki to share a golfing tip or two. She shared her thoughts most eloquently.
“Golf is life. The most import thing in golf is your grip. If you hold it too tight or too loose, you won’t perform, just as in life. Don’t hold on to anything too tight or too loose.”
Makes you want to sit back and just soak that in.
Nikki had something similar to say for managing your personal finances.
“Don’t hold on too tight or too loose to your money either. Living a balanced life and understanding your means is better than over stretching or being a miser.”
Very well said, Nikki. It’s also no surprise that if Nikki were to write an autobiography, she would title it – ‘Love, Live and Play Golf Fearlessly’.
Nikki has another hidden facet to her personality. Something as vibrant as her golfing side.
Nikki is a social activist, an avid promoter of the Barefoot Marathon.
“I am from Kodagu, which had lost 54,000 trees to an unnecessary power grid project. During that process I realised it was the failure of my community as we did not stand together for our land,” narrates Nikki.
“Hence, the Barefoot Marathon was a medium to get the people of Kodagu to reconnect with the land, themselves and nature. And having my dear friend Milind (Read: supermodel, actor, and professional marathon runner – Milind Soman) associate with the essence of the run was just, shall I say, the cherry on top.”
We couldn’t have been more impressed with Nikki. She balances out very many roles perfectly. Truly, a woman of grit, focus and drive.
On a closing note, we asked Nikki to give a message to the working women of today who are uninhibitedly chasing their dreams. She said:
“Keep at it women, men, children, elderly, whoever should dream…with their eyes open.”
That says it all.
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We all have a Nikki in us. We have our dreams, and to some extent, we may even know how to fulfil them, but lack the courage to take the leap.
Having a good financial plan in place is often what gives people the courage to chase their dreams and it can be your springboard to building a career of your choice. If you are keen to leave the corporate world for different things then make sure you have enough funds to cushion challenges that could set you back.
If you are looking to start something of your own, you could begin by building an emergency fund. It’ll tide you over in difficult times. It’s advisable to have an emergency fund that is equal to your annual salary. You can also start investing in short-term Debt Funds and Mutual Funds to raise capital for your business idea.
With enough firepower in your bank account, you can comfortably apply for a Business Loan to help your business idea take off the runway.
What’s more? The Government is on your side too. In the recent budget, the Government has proposed that eligible start-ups needn’t pay tax on their profits and gains for the first 7 years of operations. Earlier, this benefit was provided only for three years. Also, there are exemptions for entrepreneurs with respect to capital gains tax.
Women entrepreneurs are taking the world by storm and this phenomenon hasn’t gone unnoticed The Government has allocated funds for women entrepreneurs to the extent of Rs. 500 crore.
Additional Reading: Startup India – What It Means For Women Entrepreneurs
Lastly, do not burn bridges with your past as you embark on your entrepreneurial journey. Always keep in touch with professionals in your field. In case your venture doesn’t turn out as expected, you old friends and contacts could help you land a job easily and quickly.
We know Nikki’s story rekindles the desire in many of us to chase our dreams. We’ve also learnt from her that it’s never too late. So get set to chase your dreams. While we can’t make the journey void of hurdles, we can definitely reinforce you with finances. Apply for a Personal Loan, Home Loan, or a Credit Card and see your dream project, whatever it may be, take wings.