There is an explorer lurking in the shadow of a sportsperson. Athletes pursue improvement with a relentless mind. They seek an inch here, one small degree there; digging relentlessly in the quest to find their best. Vani Kapoor, clear of mind and purpose, is a seeker in this mould.
Introduced to golf by her eager mother, the intriguing geometry of the game and the rhythmic notes from the club on ball hooked Vani to the sport.
“I paid for ten classes,” her mother told her when she was nine. “And you will learn the sport for life.”
“Ironically, I am still taking lessons,” says an amused Vani. “I was sure about turning professional by the time I was twelve. So it was a simply a matter of process, as soon as I turned eighteen.”
As a teenager, Vani found balance between the gentle philosophy of her parents and the straight as an arrow approach of her mentor, Anitya Chand. As an outsider at the DLF Academy, Vani had to endure bullying as a child. “I would come home to my parents, who would try and impress upon me the need to be forgiving,” says Vani. “Anitya, on the other hand would provide me with a stoic spirit, reminding me that I had to go get my dues and stand up for myself.” That filled the young girl with steel, enough to give her the strength to grind out eleven hour drills. Vani has a deep appreciation and gratitude for the role of her parents and mentor in shaping her destiny as a golfer and a human being.
“I was struck by her obsession for the game,” said Anitya, recollecting her days as a precocious teenager. “She would be happy spending entire days at DLF, making the club her second home. There was at least one summer vacation, if not two, when she asked her parents to drop her on their way to work and pick her back in the evening on their return home. I think it was clear from a young age, golf was her calling.”
Any lingering thoughts about college golf may have been relegated when Vani won her first WGAI title as an amateur in 2011-12. Incidentally, she won the fifth leg at Golden Greens, soon after Aditi Ashok had won the third, when both of them were amateurs.
The first of Vani’s professional victories came in 2012, charting a course that made her the most prolific woman on the WGAI. She has won an impressive 29 times with two runner-up finishes on the Hero Order of Merit (2012, 2013) before finishing top of the rankings three years in a row (2014 – 2016). Her dominance of the Indian women’s tour was supreme, so much so that she won four of just six events that she entered in 2017 as she set her sails for European waters.
Vani’s tryst with Europe has been a test of her strength and character. In many ways, the journey to Europe has put Vani on a path of progress that could eventually get her face to face with her full potential as a golfer. While she has never missed the cut in eleven forays at the Hero Women’s Indian Open, Vani is looking to gain similar consistency around the world. Her best year on the Ladies European Tour was in 2017, when she was 6-3 in cuts made. But the thirst of a champion golfer is rarely quenched from mere existence. Vani is an intensely competitive athlete. It was just a matter of time before she brought the plough down searching for deeper reserves within her game.
“The transition from the domestic tour to the LET is a significant jump. The field is deeper, the courses are harder and competition is fierce,” explained Anitya. “Vani is a small package and her competitors hit it longer off the tee and that can turn out to be a big advantage. But I have no doubt that she can be very successful on the tour.”
And despite her profound relationship with Anitya Chand, the questions surrounding her game continued to mount. It was a relationship that was nearly as significant as her parents and one on which she had built an enormously successful career at home. The move to Europe though did not measure up to Vani’s lofty standards as an apex golfer. Her best result in 2018 was a T34 in the SA Women’s Open. But tenacity is Vani’s forte and it should not surprise us that she took the bull by the horns. She was driven by the desire for improvement and after much deliberation, made the choice to seek a fresh perspective. It is never easy parting ways, even if only as a professional, from a, thick as family, mentor.
Amidst all of the churn in her mind, Vani remained steadfast in her quest to establish herself on the road. Her resilience showed in Australia when she bounced back from a 78 in the middle round. Vani shot 69 in the final round of the Australian LPGA qualifying school to become the first Indian woman to secure a card on that tour.
On her return to India, Vani made the trip to Pune for an inquisition into her game. A two hour session with Laurence Brotheridge last year helped Vani reassess the work she needed to do. And despite missing out on an LET card for 2020, she believes that the edge is back in her game.
“Vani is very sharp with her short game. One of the main things I wish to impart in my players is a philosophy of independence with the swing. We have spoken about that and then there are the technical aspects,” says Laurence. “She has already gained 20 yards off the tee since we started working together. At times, then, you need some luck. I think everything is coming around nicely for her.”
“I am looking forward to see her going again. When she is away, and the ball striking suffers a bit, it is important that you are able to remedy it without depending on the coach. I seek to make the player independent. This is perhaps my most important input to Vani,” added Laurence.
The pause for Corona has come as a blessing for the 26-year-old from Delhi, who has spent her time making Instagram conversations with her colleagues and resting her body. When the WGAI was forced into hibernation earlier this year, Vani had a 70k lead over her bestie Amandeep Drall with a victory in five outings.
The LET has confirmed cards for all existing categories through 2021, leaving Vani an opportunity to impose herself again on Indian soil. As she bides her time and waits for another opportunity to plough ahead overseas, the time away affords her an opportunity to work with a new set of ideas. “I am excited about my work with Laurence. I believe that my swing needs some more work, but any incremental work takes time,” explained Vani. “I am confident that I will emerge stronger from this phase.”
She has many unrequited dreams – playing the Asian Games again, the Olympics and the majors. “I would love to achieve all my dreams. But that is only possible, if I work hard to be the best version of myself,” Vani said. “I want to realise my potential as a golfer. But I value relationships and want to be remembered for being a kind human being.”
A conversation with Vani has a lingering sense of promise. The scent of desire for constant improvement punctuates so many of her thoughts. And if she stays true to her imploring mind, Vani could leave a legacy that can sail farther than just her golf.