Deaf LET winner Diksha Dagar defies expectations
There’s a chance you haven’t heard her name before, and that’s okay. For years, Indian Professional Tour winner and European Ladies Diksha Dagar didn’t hear it either. That’s because the 21-year-old, who was one of dozens of players who qualified for the AIG Women’s Open last Monday in nearby North Berwick, was born deaf.
Today, Dagar has the distinction of being the only golfer in history to compete in the Olympic and Deaflympic Games. She qualified first in Tokyo after Paula Reto of South Africa contracted the COVID virus and had to withdraw. The latter played twice, once in Turkey in 2017 where she took the silver, and in Caxias do Sul, Brazil in 2021 where Dagar won the gold.
Every step you take these days is a historic one. She was the youngest Indian and first-ever deaf player to win a LET event when she captured the 2019 Investec South African Women’s Open. And on Thursday, she will become the first deaf woman to compete in a major tournament at Muirfield.
“I was playing in the practice round and it was a completely headwind and I thought ‘Oh my God, this is going to be tough’ and I was thinking about how to deal with it,” Dakar said of her qualifying attempt. Her statement could have been a metaphor for her life. “On the actual day it was a headwind, on the first hole it was a headwind before, and it changed to a tailwind. I knew every shot was going to matter and I tried to save my shots as best I could.
Dakar also played for North Berwick when she was 15 in the British Amateur Girls’ Championship.
“When I played at North Berwick there were some beautiful memories,” she said. “With over 100 people playing in 12 locations, I tried not to think about the pitch or the number of locations. I told myself to go and play as if you were on your own. That’s why I played so well.”
Adjusting distractions is nothing new for someone like Dagar. Those who are hard of hearing live that life every day, without a will of their own accord. According to WHO statistics, more than 360 million people in the world are functionally deaf, and most of them are from poor countries that have little or no hearing professionals. These people struggle in few ways he can imagine.
Deafness is difficult to describe because it is impossible to simulate. You can’t remove the auditory receptors for an hour or two to experience what it’s like. Hearing is unique among the senses in this respect. If you want to know what it feels like to be out of sight, you can put a nerve to your eyes in the dark. You can also get a shot of Novocain and marvel at the weirdness that comes with losing your sense of touch. If you’ve had COVID-19 in the past two years, you may have experienced what it’s like to lose your sense of taste and smell. But deafness is different.
You can simulate hearing loss easily enough. Put on earplugs and wear noise-cancelling headphones and they will mute most sounds. But if lightning strikes a nearby tree, you will hear something. Even in your quietest moments, there are voices. No matter how quiet you are making things up, hearing people hear. This makes it difficult to appreciate the challenges of those who cannot.
Even a cochlear implant, which Dagar underwent since childhood, does not “cure” deafness. The implant bypasses the inner ear and sends stimuli directly to the brain. With practice, things like one-on-one conversations become possible. But at a table of eight, without the benefit of lip-reading, even the most advanced hearing aids fail to separate the cacophony of sounds. This is why deaf people, even those with hearing aids, can sometimes become withdrawn and isolated.
Daggar has never been this way, due in large part to her father Narinder, an Indian Army colonel and one-time golfer. Colonel Daggar’s military service gave the family access to golf facilities (something the average Indian doesn’t have), and his command never allowed his daughter to believe she was capable of it. There was no “woe to me” in Daggar’s house. From the start, Colonel Daggar believed his daughter had the makings of a hero.
“I am convinced that Diksha has a lot of raw talent because she has been effectively self-taught,” the colonel said when she was an amateur. “She’s also a left-hander, so she’s literal. She’s fearless with her shot and she has a great shot of the ball.”
Diksha started learning golf at the age of six and has grown to love the game thanks in part to her father.
“I love to play sports, but (I grew up) no one was ready to give training. So, my dad became my coach,” she said. “Despite his job, he trained me and my brother, who also has hearing problems like me. I couldn’t play on my own, so he trained my brother (yogesh) as well. I hardly had any friends. Besides my family, golf is my life.”
That life in the game has now taken it to the highest level. With the implant turned on, Dagar will hear the automated interpretation of her name when it is announced at Muirfield’s first tee, along with applause from a gallery of appreciation.
What you won’t hear is the millions of children with hearing impairments that can inspire them; Those who will no doubt say, out loud or through a sign, “Come on, Diksha.”