By Tom Rinaldi and Kristen LappasApril 22, 2018
For more on this story, watch the SC Featured documentary, "A Mountain to Climb," here.
On the first tee, smoke from the temple pyres hovers in the distance. No ropes are raised. No marshals ask for silence. No PA announcers, and no polite applause follows from the crowd. There isn't one. Just a few dozen people gathered in the damp morning, held by the same pursuit.
She's the only woman here, at age 17, competing against 21 men, and all eyes are on her. Before stepping between the markers, before adjusting her posture, repeating her swing thought and settling for one last long breath, before drawing the driver back and uncoiling it to make first contact that will count toward the finish she so desperately needs, she looks straight out to the horizon.
From the elevated first tee of the Royal Nepal Golf Club on the morning of Sept. 6, 2017, Pratima Sherpa sees it all: her mother and her father, her fear and her faith, her past and her future, her course and her country.
On Day 1 of this qualifying tournament, as she tries to make history by becoming the first female golf professional in her country, she sees something else.
The blue door beckons.
It's the only way into the shed.
A shallow stone ramp rising from the dirt leads inside. Rakes and sickles, wheelbarrows and aging mowers used by the staff to maintain the grounds here, are stacked and stored, mute and dry, beneath the tin roof. The smell of grass drapes the air.
Turn right inside the shed, walk a few paces across the stone floor and enter the other room.
It's small. Not quite the size of some larger bathrooms in America, the space has two beds touching each other, a makeshift stove in the corner and a table. There is no running water. Against the far wall is a cabinet, and beside it a small table filled with keepsakes. The keepsakes all look the same. They are all trophies. They are all hers.
This is home, every day. Even this day, when she will try to prove she's worthy of her own dream.
This morning, Pratima wakes early to dress, have a small breakfast and receive best wishes from her parents. She then puts her golf bag across her shoulder and steps out the shed door and onto the biggest stage she's ever played on. The professional qualifying tournament, her country's version of qualifying school, or Q-school, is being held at Royal Nepal.
The event is three rounds over three days. The top five finishers earn professional status.
With success would come the chance to begin a career playing for earnings and sponsorship deals. This is the competition with the most essential stakes in the game: to become a golfing professional.
Deepak Acharya, the general secretary of the Nepal Golf Association, helps oversee the tournament. He knows Pratima's game and her potential.
"She has played with females, she has played with club golfers," he says before play begins. "But this time is going to be against the serious guys who want to become pro and want to earn money.
"She might feel the pressure."
Pratima exhales, lifts the club and steps forward. She's nervous, but she expected to be.
"Golf is my passion. Golf is my best friend," she says, smiling. "So I cannot lose."