It was in April 2018 that Pratima Sherpa’s story was first told. An ESPN documentary, A Mountain To Climb, aired about a young woman who grew up in the maintenance shed with her parents on Royal Nepal Golf Club, with big dreams to become the first Nepali woman to play on the LPGA Tour, and written stories, including Oliver Horovitz’s piece for GolfDigest.com were published shortly after. A Go Fund Me page was started for her. The golf world, and even the media beyond, became enchanted by Pratima’s story.
As all of this was going on, in California, Tanya Montano was googling about Nepal. Her daughter, Sophia, had called her to say she was going to travel to Nepal via a college program, to learn the language and culture. Tanya was immediately supportive, but started asking the questions moms ask—What town are you going to be in? Where will you stay? What is this program? And Sophia gave the answer teenage girls give: I don’t know.
So, Tanya started googling.
“In searching for Nepal, Pratima popped up,” Tanya explained. “I watched the video and read her story and what immediately struck me was the similarities our families have. We both have one daughter who trained for golf alone as the only girl. Even in our town in California, Sophia was always the only girl. I realized my daughter was going to be in Pratima’s town—it was amazing to me. Then I started thinking of the differences between our families, where we lived, the training that we have to offer and the equipment and the tournaments. We felt it was selfish for us to not share that. So we clicked donate on her Go Fund Me page.”
Tanya Montano contacted Horovitz, the writer who had told Pratima’s story and started the Go Fund Me page, to see if Pratima had a passport, and if she could come to the U.S. The answer from Pratima was no. Over the course of a year, Tanya continued to contact Horovitz, with the same answer coming back to her each time. Tanya and her husband, Michael, were about to travel to Nepal to visit their daughter, so Tanya reached out one last time to see if maybe Pratima had been granted a passport. Finally, the answer was yes.
“With her passport, we were able to bring her [to the States] for the summer. She trained with my daughter’s coach, Don Parsons, who donated his time. We gave her the opportunity to focus on her game, brought her to tournaments all over the California coast,” Montano said. “We offered our home to her if she wanted to go to university here. She wasn’t ready after that first trip, but I remember getting that call saying, Mom, I want to come!”
Pratima moved to California in January. Since then the 19-year-old has been living with the Montanos and going to Santa Barbara City College. She’ll be in the U.S. until the summer, when she’ll travel to Nepal to be with her parents, but plans to return again for school in the fall. Her hope is to continue at City College until she can transfer to a four-year college and play collegiate golf.
All this is a roundabout way of getting to the present, and the fact that Pratima is one step closer to her dream of playing on the LPGA. On Friday, she’ll play in a Symetra Tour’s IOA Championship presented by Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in California on a sponsor’s exemption. Her host sister, Sophia, will be her caddie.
“Last month I heard I’d be playing, so I started practicing so hard,” Pratima told GolfDigest.com. “It was just one month and I was just like, This is a really big tournament for me. And not only for me, for my whole country Nepal. There was pressure.”
She said that she felt the pressure fade when she went to the Bank of Hope Founder’s Cup, the LPGA event in Arizona.
“I met a lot of professional golfers and watched them, and I thought, I can also do it. That encouraged me to move forward,” Pratima explained. “In Phoenix, people were saying, ‘She’s from Nepal,’ and that made me feel so proud. I’m representing Nepal, and they know me as a Nepali, not just as who I am myself. That’s a proud moment for me.”
Photos by Michael Montano
Pratima has enjoyed preparing for the tournament, which isn’t out of the ordinary given she’s always loved to practice. She says something her mom told her when she was 8 is always running through her head: If you work hard you will be lucky. But working hard on her golf game is even more fun in the U.S. where there are so many options of where to play and how to practice.
“In Nepal, we just have four golf courses in the whole country,” Pratima said. “I know every course, every hole in Nepal. When I came to the U.S., I didn’t know anything about course management. There are different courses, different styles. So I’m learning. The coaching system is totally different. They have Trackman here, all this stuff that can help you understand your swing better. USA is made for golf.”
She’s been working with her new coach, Parsons, on virtually every aspect of her game. “We’ve been making big changes,” Pratima said. “I’m getting more comfortable and more confident in my game.”
Big changes doesn’t even begin to describe what her life has been like for the past few months: Learning how to be herself into a new country, a new culture, a new family, a new school system, a golf team. But Pratima never sounds stressed when she talks about it. She misses her parents, of course, but her overwhelming feeling of gratitude towards the people who have supported her outweighs any stress.
“My personal goal is to become a good golfer and become the first female professional golfer in Nepal, and to become an educated person,” Pratima said. “I just want to give back to poor families like me. And I want to make my family proud.”
That last goal, certainly, has already been accomplished.
Photos by Michael Montano