Growing up in a household that has arguably India’s greatest sprinter and a former captain of the Indian women’s volleyball team, Jeev Milkha Singh was always likely to continue their sporting legacy.
The Chandigarh native did indeed play multiple sports in his younger days, dabbling in cricket, football and hockey, as and when the mood suited him. But golf, the sport he would eventually make a career in, is what truly captured his attention as a nine-year-old.
And like many other important lessons he would learn in life, this one was also imparted by his legendary father Milkha Singh.
“Dad went to the UK for some official function and was presented with a golf set. He started taking golf lessons once he came back and suggested that I should try it out too,” Jeev Milkha Singh revealed in a chat with the Olympic Channel.
“The Chandigarh Golf Club was 600 yards from our house and when I went there, I saw other kids of my age playing. I became friends with them and gradually fell in love with the game. I used to cycle down to the course every chance I got.”
With golf not being such a popular sport among youngsters in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Jeev Milkha Singh could not access a junior kit and so his parents improvised to let his passion flourish.
“Dad knew some people at the sports club and they cut off some of the iron to suit my height. So basically, it was a proper, heavy staff but cut to my specifications. And the grip was put on so that I could swing with it,” the Indian golfer recalled.
Jeev Milkha Singh had a rapid growth spurt thereafter, though he still did not have the upper body strength to handle a men’s golf club and so was forced to switch to a ladies’ set, which tended to be lighter, to continue playing.
The Indian golfer would eventually move to the United States to study, where he impressed in the college circuit and it convinced him to build a professional career in the sport.
The next step was to convince his parents.
Support of father Milkha and mum Nirmal
Jeev Milkha Singh had been raised by Milkha Singh and Nirmal Kaur to be his own man, where his parents opened up avenues for him, be it in sports or education, and encouraged him to make his own decisions.
And so, when the then 22-year-old rang them up from college in the US to seek their blessing for a full-fledged golf career, they only had one question for him.
“They asked me if I was sure of my choice,” said Jeev Milkha Singh. “I told them that it was my passion and dream to be a professional golfer.
“All they told me then was to work hard, never look back and assured me that they will be with me and support me to the best of their abilities.”
Having been athletes themselves, both Milkha Singh and Nirmal Kaur knew the ups and downs their chosen career path brings and in many ways, it was an advantage for Jeev Milkha Singh as he had empathetic parents.
“Whenever I would go to them for advice, they would teach me about the ways they learnt certain things. They taught me that you may not always win in sports,” the Indian golfer explained.
“The way around it was to believe in the process and work on it regularly to make it a routine. Only then do you create a habit of doing good things for yourself and be proud of it.”
Fuelled by these words of wisdom and his own passion for golf, Milkha Singh's son set about to make his own identity.
Jeev went on to become the first Indian golfer to enter the European Tour in 1998. He won his first title there at the Volvo China Open in 2006, won the Volvo Masters tournament the same year and went on to play in the PGA Tour, the Japan Golf Tour, where he is a four-time winner, and the Asian Tour, where he has six titles.
Of all these successes though, Jeev Milkha Singh considers his Scottish Open win in 2012, his last European Tour title till date, where he beat Francesco Molinari in a play-off, as his favourite win.
Now nearing his fifties, the Indian golfer has a new challenge at hand.
Grooming a third-gen athlete?
The 2007 Padma Shri awardee is a father himself to the nine-year-old Harjai Singh.
Jeev Milkha Singh's son shares a lot of family traits, playing seasonal sports just like his father and won bronze at the Kids Golf Championship in Malaysia last year, where Jeev caddied for him.
Staying true to the Milkha Singh school of parenting, the Indian golfer wants to inculcate values like independence and freedom in his child.
“My job as a parent is to groom him in a way that he should conduct himself well and be a good human being, be helpful to people and animals,” stated Jeev Milkha Singh.
And the inevitable question of whether Harjai would go on to emulate his father came up, the Indian golfer had a simple answer.
“I’m only going to be his guiding light. His passion may be golf, cricket, music or studying, but it has to be his choice to make. As a parent, I’ll provide him with the best and positive feedback to do the best he can,” Singh signed off.