Sports | Golf

The Number One from New Delhi

First-year Columbia golfer Ridhima Dilawari was seven years old when she started playing tennis in her hometown of New Delhi, India, but it wasn’t long before the golf range across the street from the courts turned the curious seven-year-old into the number one junior golfer in India. 

“I saw it [the golf range] and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to try that too,’” Dilawari said. “And I started playing golf, and I guess I just kept playing.” 

By 2015, Dilawari ranked No. 2 among Indian female amateurs. The Light Blue golfer first competed in tournaments around the world, ranging from amateur to professional, even representing India at international contests. 

Dilawari now enters her first year of competition with the Lions and has helped bolster the team to arguably its strongest fall season yet, claiming two titles in four competitions. Dilawari contributed to those team wins with individual finishes in 10th place and 5th place in her second and third tournaments for the Lions.

While she’s not solely responsible for the team’s overall success, Dilawari has certainly found her footing early on. Senior captain Camilla Vik, who led the Lions to victory at the Princeton Invitational with a second-place individual finish, discussed her first impressions of Dilawari as a first-year on the team.

“Sometimes some freshmen take a couple weeks or a couple months, and for a little while everything we do, you have to guide them through it, and Ridhima is certainly not that person,” Vik said. “Right out of the gate she’s been able to perform at a super high level. She’s just very mature in her game and the way that she plays.”

Despite her immediate impact on Columbia golf, Dilawari failed to take home tournament titles until recent years. To improve her game, she went to Romit Bose, Vice President of the India PGA and private golf coach, nearly two years ago for more technical training.

“When she came in she really desperately wanted to know how to win,” Bose said. “There were some inconsistencies in her swing which were preventing her [from winning]. And we actually worked … with the machines and of course a lot of club training. It made her reflect on what she actually felt into the shot, which gave her enough confidence.”

Shortly after beginning training with Bose, Dilawari achieved her first win at the Sri Lanka Open, and went on to become the most successful junior female golfer in India.

Graphic by Daniella Levitan | Staff Designer

Though she had strong ties to her native country, from an early age Dilawari had set her sights on attending college in the United States.

“I always wanted to come to the U.S. for college because I just felt like it’s a really good balance between trying to play your sport and trying to do well academically,” Dilawari said. 

The New Delhi native’s focus on academics motivated her to email multiple Ivy golf coaches just to “see what would happen,” and when she stepped onto the Morningside Heights campus, Dilawari knew that she had found a second home. 

“When I walked into Columbia, I was like, ‘this is where I want to be,’” Dilawari said. “After that, I didn’t even feel like visiting any other place.”

The Light Blue reciprocated interest. After seeing Dilawari’s email and résumé, head coach Amy Weeks responded very quickly, taking the time to see the then-recruit play on the West Coast and connect with her on Skype. Shortly thereafter, Dilawari committed to leave New Delhi for Manhattan.

Dilawari’s former coach had no problem with his pupil going abroad, though she could have perhaps pursued professional golf in and around New Delhi. Bose, who admits that golf in India lags behind golf in other parts of the world—there are only one or two public golf courses in the country of over 1.3 billion people—knew that attending college in the U.S. would allow Dilawari to see more of the world and compete against top-level competition.

Dilawari’s only experience on a team prior to coming to Columbia has been in short bursts during international competitions. Though she has certainly helped push the team forward—leading all Light Blue golfers in their first-place finish at the Yale Intercollegiate—the transition hasn’t been perfectly seamless on the course. 

“She’s used to playing on less undulated golf courses [in India],” coach Weeks said. “There’s more undulation and forced carries, more bumpers with high lifts or faces on them here in the U.S. You have to be more aware of the features of the golf course … and that’s something she’s getting used to.”

Off the course, Dilawari has had to adapt as well. Like anyone entering Columbia, Dilawari deals with—on top of hours of practice and workouts every week—the stress of college classes, late nights in Butler, and mixed feelings about the Core. 

Through it all, Dilawari managed to have one of the strongest first-year fall seasons ever, and will look to build upon that campaign as the spring season nears. She has high hopes for her team, with Ivy competition and a potential spot in regionals six months ahead.

“There’s the Ivy League Championship to look forward to, and we have long term goals of trying to make it to the regionals this year. No Ivy League golf team has ever made it to the regionals,” Dilawari said. “So we’ve kind of set our sights high, but hopefully we can get there because everyone’s been playing so well.”

leo.goldman@columbiaspectator.com | @CUSpecSports

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