11 April 2019

From Queen Sirikit to Honda LPGA

Nineteen-year-old Ribka Vania attracted a lot of attention when she got the chance to play at the Honda LPGA event in Thailand in February. It was just one of the many interesting experiences the Indonesian athlete has had over the past four years of her amateur career. OB Golf was able to take a seat with Ribka to chat about her experiences in golf so far: 

Can you tell us a little about your introduction to golf?
My father introduced golf to me. He loves to play golf with his friends. When I was a kid, he took me to the golf course and driving range. I tried hitting the ball every time. It turns out that I have the talent to continue. I swung a golf club for the first time when I was four years old. When I was six years old, I started to play in the tournaments.

Compared to other sports, why do you prefer golf?
I chose golf because I like traveling. If I play golf, I can go everywhere and meet new friends in the golf community.

When did you get serious about golf?
I participated in the World Junior in San Diego, aged 11-12 years, for the first time. Since then, I started seriously with golf. My passion is in golf.

Who trained you?
I practiced with my father since childhood. When I was 13-14 years old, CIMB, through the CIMB Golf Development Program, made a training camp for children from Southeast Asia. They chose the best juniors from each country to attend training in Malaysia every three months. I joined the training. I got a coaching clinic from Shane of the PGA Tour (Shane Gillespie, Head Coach of the PGA TOUR Academy. In the programme Ribka was awarded the “Best Player from Indonesia”.)

After local tournaments, you moved on to higher-level tournaments. Can you tell us a little about that?
I first played at the National Games 2012 in Riau. I strengthened the West Java team, replacing other players who retired due to illness. However, I was truly chosen as a West Java athlete when strengthening the City of Bandung in Porda 2014, in preparation for the 2016 National Games. Along with that, I was already in the junior national team.

What was the first big event you competed in?
The Queen Sirikit in Hong Kong in 2014.

Where has been your most memorable experience representing Indonesia? 
I won at the 2018 Malaysian Ladies Amateur a few weeks before the Asian Games. I was six shots behind the leader, but I was finally able to win the tournament with a two-shot lead.

You encounter so many foreign golfers. Besides Thailand, which Southeast Asian country do you think has the strongest players?
The Philippines. They have one or two players who can bring their team to perform better, such as Yuka Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan, and previously Princess Superal.

Last year you had the opportunity to play in the Youth Olympic Games. How was that?
I got news that I would play in Argentina while I was competing in Thailand. Indonesia got one spot to play in the Youth Olympic Games held in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I am proud to have been able to perform at the multi-sport event. I think that was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

How did you feel playing in such a big event? 
I was very nervous. The result was not satisfactory; I could actually perform better. I came to Argentina unprepared because I had just returned home from Thailand.

When you got nervous, what did you do to combat that?
I was dependent on Lawrie (Montague), the Indonesian national team coach. He gave me advice: "If you are nervous, just think of shot per shot. No need to think of others, just think where this shot is going." I think the advice encouraged me to focus more, so I didn't think of anything and I played freely.

You had the incredible chance to play in an LPGA tournament. How did you feel?
When I got there, I was very starstruck. I was among the Top 50 world players that I grew up watching. It was very exciting. I was very nervous too. I met my idols. It was a huge honor that I could play with them. Playing with Angela Stanford (USA) and Azahara Munoz (Spain), I learned a lot, I learned from them how to overcome being under so much pressure.

What else did you learn while playing with them?
The most important thing is how they place the ball, how they are on the course. For example, the ball comes into the bunker. Amateur players like me always think about hitting the ball immediately to reach the green. These pros think about how to make birdie or at least par. Despite their shots being the same as amateurs, their strategy is very different from us.

Who do you really want to play with?
I wanted to play with Paula Creamer.

And you did, didn’t you?
No. Almost, I think. Our score was only one shot apart.

How did you find the overall experience of being at an LPGA event?
Before I went there, I was told that I was there for the experience. I just wanted to test the water, see what it’s like. More often, learning is  experience. I can learn from them. I wasn't thinking too much about the score. I was just thinking about getting through there. Learn their attitude, their game plan, how they practice. I got privileges: staying in the same hotel, eating in the same place, and I could go in their locker room. It allowed me to see how they bring themselves.

You did a good job in the first round, signing 74 (2-over). Then, you finished the next three rounds with 81-74-78. How did you feel about your scores?
The first day I played without expecting anything. The second day I wanted and tried to play better, applying pressure. But, it became a burden.

Besides competing in the main event, were there any other activities that you attend there?
I attended the corporate social responsibility activities. We visited the Klet Kaeo Elementary School (local school). Shanshan Feng, Nasa Hataoka, and Ariya Jutanugarn also participated in the activity. We had fun with the students there.

How were your interactions with the world-class players? 
That surprised me. We see on television that they are very famous figures. When I met them, they're just ordinary people, not exclusive. We chatted like there are no limits. That’s the thing that I was surprised by.

This March, you also competed in the Queen Sirikit Cup. What did you think about Indonesia’s performance?
Last year, we made it to the Top 5, Indonesia's best finish at the Queen Sirikit Cup. Therefore, I went to Australia with very high expectations. However, it just didn’t turn out how we wanted. We came unprepared. 

What lesson did you take away from Queen Sirikit?
The most important thing that we learned is that we must be more self-motivating. The competition in Indonesia versus abroad is on different levels. We can win here, but it doesn't mean we can also win abroad, because the level is much higher. We learned not to be satisfied with various victories here. We learn how to push ourselves. Lawrie always says you have to push yourselves harder and there's no finish line. The finish line is not just the SEA Games or the Asian Games, but must be continuous and higher.

Last year, you played in the Asian Games. How did you think Indonesian players compared to other Asian players there? 
In my opinion, our players are good. We have talents, asset skills, and everything. Our only weakness is self-confidence. We don't believe we can beat them. In Queen Sirikit last year we played together with South Korea and Thailand on the second day. Our score is the same as they were in the second round. Sometimes we don't believe that we can do that, we don't believe we can beat Koreans and Thais. I think it's just a confidence problem.

What are your plans going forwards? 
I will turn pro in the next one or two years. My biggest goal is to enter the LPGA. I will try to qualify for the LPGA Q School and see how it goes. If it doesn't work out, maybe I will try the Symetra Tour. To be able to achieve that, I have to record a minimum score of 1-under par in each round. So, it is based on numbers.

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