South African star Nicole Garcia is having to take some time out from Tour while she recovers from a serious injury. Whilst at the Investec South African Women’s Open staged at Westlake Golf Club in Cape Town we sat down with Nicole to find out more about the golfing journey that she has been on so far, her love for home, passion for developing the game, the tremendous work that she does for Birdies 4 Rhinos and more.

How old were you when you started playing golf?

I was 16 years old. As a junior I played squash and my squash club was based at a golf club. Along with that there was also a bowling green and a golf practice range, so some excellent facilities. For me though it was all about squash! I was having coaching four / five times a week, competing every weekend and I was in the provincial team.

My mother was the one who took me to practice and waited for me to finish at the squash court, so to pass some time she booked a series of lessons and eventually dragged me along to one of them. At first I wasn’t interested but at some point the professional told me that I could really hit a great ball and I thought well I like the sound of that, considering that it was my first time. That is when it started and I never looked back, I was hooked.

You grew up believing that you would work for Walt Disney Productions, tell us more?

That was my dream! From when I was old enough to understand what a cartoon was and really take in a Disney movie, I wanted to work for Walt Disney Productions. I just loved everything about them, and I wanted to work for Disney and make animated films.

Is there a Disney character you would be?

Well at school everyone called me Goofy, I really don’t know why! That’s a tough question though, I just like so many, possibly Dory. Actually, that would be Stacy Bregman! If I had to choose I’d probably be Bell from Beauty and the beast because I love books just as much as she does.

Tell us about your love for South Africa?

If anybody asks me where I would live in the world after I have travelled to over 30 plus countries, I would still choose South Africa. I think that says it all! It’s just so beautiful.

South Africa is widely regarded around the world as a truly special place, explain to us why?

First, the culture. Our culture is just so laid back. The people are very sarcastic which I enjoy. Afrikaans is not my first language. My parents are both European, so we grew up speaking English at home, but I understand the language and most importantly the people. The Afrikaans sense of humour is something that I really love. It’s not something that you can explain in English, it is unique. South Africa is a rainbow nation and there are eleven languages, and many different cultures. I really do not think that you get that anywhere else like this country, in the world.

What do you miss most about home when you are travelling?

Probably the food. Our food is the best I have had anywhere in the world. Australia comes close but there are so many South Africans in Australia, that it kind of feels like home when we travel there. To compare our food, for the level of quality you get, you just can’t beat it anywhere across the globe.

What one food is a must try when people visit South African?

You can’t really get it in a restaurant but if you know somebody that lives here, then definitely you have to try a potjie. Potjie, basically translates as a small-pot, and you cook a stew in it over an open fire.

I had a chicken one yesterday which is quite popular. The best in my opinion is oxtail. They can be different, and you can kind of make them up as you go along but the basic ingredients that you must have are vegetables, potatoes, onions, carrots etc then you have your meats, chicken, lamb, oxtail or you could add seafood. Seafood is very nice but not that traditional. However, what makes the potjie so special is the pot that its cooked in.

You are currently injured and are having to miss a year on Tour. How are you finding it?

I’ve actually been relatively pain free since the operation which is a nice change because the last few years I have really struggled to get through tournaments without pain. I would start off well and then almost every weekend I would struggle to put a score together as it was too painful to swing the club.

I knew I was injured but didn’t know to what extent and hadn’t found out what exactly it was. I thought that I had slipped a disc in my back. It was almost a relief to find out that my injury was 100% causing the inconsistency in my golf and it wasn’t because I was weak or lacking in any other area. I knew my golf was good enough, but I couldn’t cope with the pain at tournaments. However, for a long time I blamed my bad rounds on something else (rather than the injury) so it was nice confirming that it was down to the injury and not me. For four years I had played with it.

The injury is a Cam impingement or femoroacetabular impingement. FAI occurs because the hip bones do not form normally during the childhood growing years. It is the deformity of a cam bone spur, pincer bone spur, or both, that leads to joint damage and pain. This causes damage to the labrum and bone in the hip socket.

When I went in for the MRI scan it looked like I had no labrum left. But luckily for me, that when I went in for surgery they found that the labrum was there but it had just torn away from the bone, and not disintegrated like they thought. The weakness in my hip was triggering the pain in my back.

I had a good run in my first two days of a lot of the tournaments I played in last year going into the weekend and I put myself in good positions to compete, but after practicing and playing the opening rounds the pain would be excruciating by that point. I was going into physio, exercising and doing what I thought was necessary during tournaments but then the following week I would be bed ridden. You see, I thought I had weak core strength which is why I had a bad back. But by doing what I was doing, I was actually making it worse and grinding bone on bone and causing more damage to my hip.

In the surgery they shaved my femur ball, repaired the torn labrum and repaired the lip of my hip socket as it wasn’t holding the femur in place. It does feel better now but it is early stages in my recovery. I don’t get the back pain as often, only if I have used my hip quite extensively, like if I have walked long distance. I walked one-hole last week in Cape Town to watch Anne-Lise Caudal finish and it was sore.

What do you miss most about Tour life?

I haven’t had too much of a chance to miss it due to the Sunshine Ladies Tour season. I had only been out of surgery for a month when players started to arrive in South Africa and basically my house has been full. Players have been staying with me and others locally where I live. I was at a couple of events including the Dimension Data Sunshine Ladies Tour event in George to help with the live scoring, so I was with the girls there and then some of them came back to Johannesburg with me after.

I really enjoy working with the Sunshine Ladies Tour and am passionate about helping them continue to grow. That is a big focus for me this year.

Although you are not playing this week you are here at Westlake GC. What are your plans for the week?

The title sponsor, Investec, of the SA Women’s Open is also one of my sponsors. I am here to help with anything that they need. I will be getting involved with any of the clinics that they have, we have trick shots coming up from all the girls sponsored by them and I am here to help promote women’s golf.

You have extra reason to shoot low scores with plenty of birdies due to your partnership with Birdies 4 Rhinos. Tell us more about the charity and why it is close to your heart?

The charity started out a few years ago. Birdies 4 Rhinos is an initiative set up Ally Mellor who managers a few players on the European Tour and LET. Even Justin Rose is involved now which really helps with creating awareness.

By donating money for every birdie we make throughout the season we raise funds to help in the saving of this dying species from the hands of the poachers.

Birdies 4 Rhinos are now associated with Dimension Data, who are a sponsor of one of the Sunshine Ladies Tour events and one of the men’s events. They are a technology focused company who have recognised that trying to stop poaching with man power is almost impossible and are now using technology to protect parts of the Kruger national park.

This week we will be encouraging players to take part in Birdies 4 Rhinos which is what Stacy Bregman and I do every week, by donating a sum of money per birdie that we roll in.  We did it last year at the Investec SA Women’s Open and raised approximately R14,000. It really doesn’t matter how much they put in for, it is more the taking part and whatever contribution is massively appreciated. We also encourage spectators to get involved and last season Westlake Golf Club and First Car Rental (who provide us with our cars for the week) kindly contributed.

There will also be a Birdies for rhino’s head cover and golf towel up for grabs for the best picture posted on social media with the rhino cars.

What would a successful career look like to you?

A successful career for me is also about giving back and inspiring future generations. In South Africa we do not have enough junior golfers coming through, so I am keen to play my part in changing that. I want to help the tour and the development aspect of it to open up a pathway for a brighter future.

The last few years have been very frustrating with the injury. I know that if I can have four rounds pain free and hit the ball the way I do, that I can win, and I would really like to get that victory. Hopefully it will come soon.