Jeev Milkha Singh's Sporting Hero: The calming influence of a Fred Couples

It was dad Milkha who gave Jeev the freedom to choose golf as a career but it was Fred Couples' professionalism that taught him how to shine among stars.
By Utathya Nag

Growing up, Indian golfer Jeev Milkha Singh didn’t have to look far for a sporting hero to inspire the athlete in him. In sprinter Milkha Singh – his father - he had a lgend to look up to right at home.

But having taken up a different sport than his father, his professional career saw him find another idol - American golfer Fred Couples.

“My hero is US golfer Fred Couples. I watched him play growing up. I like him because of the way he carries himself on and off the golf course,” Jeev Milkha Singh revealed in an exclusive interview with Olympic Channel.

“He’s an amazing player, won a lot of tournaments. The charisma he had, the way he talked to people and off the course also, he is a great person,” the ace Indian golfer added.

A World Golf Hall of Fame inductee in 2013 and former World no. 1, Fred Couples has 15 PGA Tour victories to his name, the most notable being at the Masters Tournament in 1992 – one year before Jeev Milkha Singh turned pro.

Dubbed Boom Boom by fans and peers for his powerful drives and swings, Fred Couples is also known for his calm demeanour and charisma on the course – two big draws right from the tee for an up-and-coming Jeev Milkha Singh at the time.

‘Multiply the general nervousness’

Having had the opportunity to play with his idol, the Indian golfer only got to know his hero up close.

“I have played many times with him, I enjoy it. I would tell him every time that I looked up to him. I always let him know how amazing he is and told him that I only wanted him to win and nobody else,” the 48-year-old Jeev quipped.

“He is so chilled and relaxed. The silence (calmness) was almost deadly. He did not show too much emotion, he was a silent killer who got the job done. It’s awe-inspiring and I told him that on the first day,” Jeev Milkha Singh noted.

As an upcoming player, Jeev Milkha Singh recalls having asked for Fred Couples’ autograph on a cap after meeting him while playing in a college golf event.

Even when he grew into his idol’s peer on the professional world, Jeev Milkha Singh admits, the fan in him remained as giddy as ever.

“Whenever I played with him on a professional tour, in Europe or the USA, I always told him ‘Freddie, you are the best’.

“I was very nervous (while playing with Fred Couples)! Multiply the general nervousness by two. Because you want to show your mentor that you can play some golf,” Jeev revealed.

Milkha Singh - father, friend and hero

About his hero, from a little closer to home, Jeev Milkha Singh shed some light on, perhaps, a more affable relationship that he shares with his father, the legendary sprinter Milkha Singh.

“At home, my hero is my father. We have had a relationship as friends since I was 14-15. It is difficult to have that sort of a relationship between a father-son.

“He always encouraged me to talk to him as a friend... He told me to never do anything behind his back. He told me to trust him to give the right guidance and I said sure. Till date we share that relationship,” explained the 1999 Arjuna Awardee.

In fact, it was accompanying his father to a local golf course when he was young which set Jeev Milkha Singh on his journey into golf.

Having an inspirational figure like Milkha Singh as his father also helped the Indian golfer deal with setbacks, like injuries or loss of form, better.

“I talked to him a lot during those phases and he would always say that it is a part of life and asked me to work on my mind,” Jeev Milkha Singh stated. 

“He would tell me to keep doing the little things and exercise to keep going. The important thing was to keep practising no matter what in order to keep that muscle memory at the optimal level.”