Getting Lucky

A golfers journey from Nepal to Tiger's backyard
Michael Bamberger
Michael Bamberger
May 10, 2023

If you write a book, try to get Ryan French to promote it for you. Because no paid publicity person could do better for you.

Now in my case, I had one thing going for me: my most recent book features three unique amateur golfers, young Pratima Sherpa, old Sam Reeves—and middle-age Ryan French. The book is called The Ball in the Air and people are saying it’s Eat Pray Love for golfers. OK, to be accurate: I’m the only person saying that.

Pratima Sherpa grew up in a golf-course maintenance shed in Nepal. She represents eat, as I’ll get to in a half-minute here. She also represents Act I of a golfing life—the start.

Alpena’s own Ryan French represents Act II of a golfing life. He is (you likely know) a man in his mid-40s who plays well and invented a golf beat. Yes, he’s the Monday Q guy. He represents pray (and Act II of a golfing life) because golf is sort a prayer in the life and times of Ryan French, despite his broad agnostic views of the world. (Maybe you’ve heard the former president’s son PSA for the Freedom from Religion Foundation. (“Ron Reagan, lifelong atheist, not afraid of burning in hell.” Ryan sees the humor in it.) Ryan might be dead today were it not for golf. More precisely, golf, along with therapy and psychiatry and self-reflection, plus a wife and children who have given him a new perspective, changed the course of Ryan’s life.

The third character in the book, 88-year-old Sam Reeves, represents love, and the third act of a life in golf. His lifelong love affair with the game has taken him places he would otherwise never have been. He grew up in the 1930s and ‘40s in a small-town in Georgia, in the heart of the Jim Crow South. College golf, Army golf, USGA golf, golf in Africa and Asia and Europe and across the Americas, public-course golf and private-club golf helped turn Sam into the most evolved, compassionate and insightful people you could ever hope to meet. His friendship with Fred Couples and his membership at Cypress Point are just happy accidents along the way. Sam is to me a soaring example of a life lived well.

But let’s get back to Pratima. Ryan interviewed her recently, shortly after she completed her collegiate golf career. On the final hole of it, she made a birdie, as you will hear. But just the fact that she had a college golf career is astounding. Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Enter Pratima, smiling and swinging.

She wasn’t drawn to golf as a way to eat and make a life for herself, as Lee Trevino (who pops up now and again in the book) did. But her parents moved to a maintenance shed on the rugged, nine-hole Royal Nepal golf course so they would have a free place to live while working menial jobs (picking weeds, providing security) at the golf course. They weren’t golfers, but they were drawn to golf, in a roundabout way, in order to survive.

Pratima found her way to golf because it was in her backyard. Golf got her to the United States, to Santa Barbara City College, later to Cal State L.A., where she is a senior. She will graduate this month. All four of her parents, as you will hear in Ryan’s interview, will be there: her actual parents, from Nepal, and her “American parents,” from Ojai, Calif.

You talk about golf’s capacity to change the direction of a person’s life.

We can all imagine what it’s like to be a senior in college, with graduation and the rest of your life on the horizon. Here (from the book) is Pratima’s life as a young girl:

When she was six, Pratima Sherpa moved with her parents into the maintenance shed at the Royal Nepal Golf Club, where her parents worked. The club’s leadership was looking for extra security for Royal Nepal’s lawn mowers and rakes and the rest. The Sherpa family was looking for free digs. Talk about a win-win.

The low whitewashed cinder-block building was in the shade of a drunken conga line of short, unkempt trees. Its barnlike main door, with a cement ramp leading to it, was secured from the inside by a padlock. The dank interior space was crowded with the basic tools of course maintenance, including long bamboo poles used to remove morning dew and monkey dung off the greens each day, before the start of play. When there were no monkeys on the course, that meant leopards were making a rare appearance, which meant play was paused until they were chased off by the sound of gunfire. Golf at Royal Nepal in Kathmandu.

The Sherpas had turned a small section of the shed, an area measuring roughly twenty feet by ten, into living quarters. There were two beds covered by colorful blankets. The family’s section was separated from the storage area by hanging curtains, as you might see in a college dormitory. The spigot for running water, cold only, was be- hind the shed. Water for bathing was heated over an open fire. There was an area to cook, another to sleep, and a third to congregate. There were nights when Pratima (prah-TEE-ma) fell asleep amid the aroma of cauliflower fried in a pan with her mother’s spices. Her first smell in the morning was often “petrol” (Pratima’s word) from the mowers as her father stood over them, red gas tank in hand.

And then there were the scents from beyond the shed’s front door. A Hindu temple abutted the course, and there were days when Pratima could smell the smoke of festival fires and cremations. The family’s backyard collection of animals—an inconstant population of goats and hens and dogs—provided its own bouquet. There was the smell of jet fuel from the national airport bordering the golf course on one side and exhaust fumes from the vehicles on the city’s Ring Road on the other. Pratima Sherpa grew up in a pungent city.

Pratima Sherpa spoke no English when she moved to that maintenance shed. She certainly would not have heard of Tiger Woods. Western culture meant nothing to her.

In her interview with Ryan, you’ll see how far she’s come. If there’s anything I can tell you about Pratima or the book, feel free to drop me a line. ( If you want to know about Ryan’s caddie-camping trips with his late father, Howard, I’m certified to tell you about that, too. If you want to know about Monday qualifiers who have won on the PGA Tour, Ryan’s the great authority on the subject.

An interest in golf will take a person’s life in a lot of unexpected directions. Enter Ryan French, middle-aged man and native son of Alpena, Mich., interviewing 23-year-old Pratima Sherpa, native of Kathmandu, about the hold the old Scottish shepherd’s game has on her.

Listen to the podcast with Pratima here:



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