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Golfing Star Bhavi Perfects Her Swing Speed

 Bhavi Shah
Kenya’s professional golfer Bhavi Shah at Nyali Golf and Country Club on March 11, 2020. PHOTO | WACHIRA MWANGI 

Bhavi Shah, one of the only two Kenyan women golf players, swings a club at a speed of 105 miles per hour.

It is 11 am on a Wednesday at the Nyali Golf Club in Mombasa and hers is a picture-perfect swing that can easily be holed in slots reserved for elite players.

Wearing white sports shoes, a white golf skirt, and a blue golf jacket, it is another day of practice for the rising star who has found her place among champions.

Kenya only has two women, professional golfers, Bhavi and Rose Naliaka, who has taken a break from professional golf having hit the balls since September 1980.

Bhavi started playing 19 years ago. She studied mathematics and finance at university but pursued golf as a professional.

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“Golf is now my job and hobby,” says the 33-year-old.

Who does she look up to? This is a question that she is asked very often. Her fitness coach, she says, and not any renowned golfers.

“He is not a golfer but he has made great golfers,” she says.

Over the years, golf and fitness have had a rather uneasy relationship, she says, noting that fitness is now a top priority for her.

“I used to play good golf but I was not fit. I could not sustain it for more than eight days in a row. He {trainer} changed the way I look at golf. Now it is about how the body moves as an overall not only what my hands are doing. Golfers have to be fit,” Bhavi says.

She started training with him in 2013 when she had sustained an injury.

“I wake up quite early. Some days I will come directly to the course and on others, I will go to the gym. My gym training is in three parts strength training, stretching, and mobility exercises. Every four months we change the exercises,” she says.

Part of her office has been converted into a gym and has mats, mirrors, weights, kettlebells, trap bar, and a trampoline.

“Now I have no excuse. I built a gym at my workplace so that I can put in an hour or more every day. I do cardio exercises on the golf course or while cycling across Nyali. The workouts have improved my swing by 65 percent and strengthened my legs and core,” she says.

One of the biggest moments of her golf life came in December last year when she shared a course with international players at Vipingo Ridge’s Magical Kenya Ladies Open, the first-ever Ladies European Tour tournament in Kenya and East Africa.

The event attracted more than 100 of the world's top lady golf professionals including America's Cheyenne Woods.

Kenya was represented by five players, four of whom were amateurs vying for the amateur title, while professional Bhavi battled for a share of the prize money of 300,000 euros (Sh30 million).

Bhavi finished in 98th position but she relishes the opportunity of having played a Ladies European Tour event, with top golfers in the world.

What lessons has she learned from her performance?

“To eat right and hydrate. I failed to do so during the Magical Kenya Ladies Open at Vipingo. I got dehydrated. There was pressure. I was worn out. My body gave in,” she says.

“I played okay on the first day and I knew I had a chance of getting into the field. I put too much pressure on myself. The second day the wheels came off. I’m working on how to handle that kind of intense moments," she says.

Born in 1987, Bhavi grew up in Kitale and started playing golf in 2001 when she was 15 years old.

As a teen, her life revolved around the golf course.

“My parents used to drop us off at the club and that is where we would hang out, play golf, and swim. It was safe and secure. We were 14 juniors and used to compete with each other,” she says.

“I just fell in love with the course."

Her parents encouraged her to play despite being golf novices. She liked the game enough to train for hours at the club.

She got her handicap in 2003. “I’m the type of person when I want to do something I just go for it. As a junior and an amateur, I won many club tournaments,” says Bhavi, who was the pioneer lady professional golfer to play at the Safari Tour series.

In 2009, she made her debut in Kenya Golf Union (KGU). She played a lot of championships in Kitale and within Kenya.

As she started winning, it deepened her determination. She knew she wanted to play golf to a different level.

“I also represented Kenya in various events from there up to 2013. After I won, I told my parents I want to be pro. They allowed me to go to South Africa just to play and compete,” she says.

She stayed in South Africa for one year where she was training and playing at the Silver Lakes Golf Club in Pretoria.

“There were 120 girls between 24 and 25 years with single handicaps. I gained a lot of experience there. I travelled and joined in a lot of competitions while there,” she says.

Once her handicap came down, she went to the UK from 2012 to 2013 where she trained and played with different coaches.

She turned pro in 2013.

“The reason why there are only two women professionals is that there was nowhere to go with it. When you turn pro what will you do next? Traveling to South Africa and Asia every month is very expensive especially when you are just landing on your feet in the game. Now more people have a platform because we have our local tour, which you can play on and test your skills,” she says.

Although the battle for endorsements and sponsorships is difficult, her business instincts seem to be paying off.

She runs a six-year-old company that sells imported golf equipment and gym wear through social media and has an office in Mombasa.

But being a professional golfer does not come cheap.

“It is expensive especially for women because we have to travel quite far for our tournaments. The flights alone will cost you much plus accommodation. We do not have corporate sponsors as such. Once we have them on board then you will see more women playing,” she says.

For now, she is keeping fit to add speed to her swing awaiting the return of sporting activities around the world.

“I am working towards playing a few events in Asia and also trying to get into two or three European tour events. I feel physically fit,” she says.

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