Last summer Ivana Shah stood on an apartment rooftop in Mumbai, India, hitting golf balls off a welcome mat into a blanket stretched across the terrace by a rope.
Her father guessed the temperature was 95 degrees with 75% percent humidity. Her mother remembers the two-hour frenzy before they found a bedcovering stiff enough to protect the neighbor’s windows.
The sophomore (in terms of eligibility) on the University of Akron women’s golf team wanted to keep her game sharp during the three months she spent at home during the COVID-19 lockdown. During her time in India from March until June, the streets were eerily silent in Mumbai, a city of 25 million people. Residents were allowed outside only during designated hours for trips to the grocery and pharmacy; most had food delivered.
Ivana, 20, and her sister Evanka, 15 — now a high school senior who hopes to play college golf in the U.S. — pounded balls into the blanket and putted on marble floors.
“I completely lost feel,” Ivana said of her putting touch. “In three months, I hadn’t really hit a ball off of grass, or even a [golf] mat. A few times we may have missed and the ball did go flying into somebody else’s building.”
Mother Niki Shah so marveled at her daughter’s dedication that she captured it on video.
“She wanted to keep herself and her sister motivated to practice and take advantage of that time,” father Kaushal Shah said from Mumbai during a WhatsApp call on May 8. “You could just end up sitting watching movies and playing video games and blow off a month and a half. She worked pretty hard on trying to keep her swing going. She was very creative in coming up with how to practice.”
Ivana Shah’s persistence led to a surprising and prestigious reward. Akron-born Shah was named the winner of the Dinah Shore Trophy award, chosen by the LPGA Foundation from nominations submitted by the National Golf Coaches Association. The announcement of the honor, also a joint effort with Friends of Golf and the ANA Inspiration, one of five majors on the LPGA Tour, was made Thursday morning.
Those considered had to have a GPA of at least 3.2 on a 4.0 scale, compete in at least 50% of the team’s scheduled events, maintain a stroke average of 78 or under and demonstrate leadership and/or extraordinary community affairs work.
University of Akron golfer Ivana Shah packs COVID-19 relief kits at the Cleveland Clinic Akron General’s Bellows Building on May 8 in Akron. Shah has won the prestigious Dinah Shore Trophy Award. Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal.
A biomedical engineering major who plans to graduate in May 2022 and go on to medical school, Shah has a 3.902 GPA, posted a 75.92 stroke average in 2020-21 and finished a career-best fifth at the Mid-American Conference Championships.
Also drawing strong consideration from the Dinah Shore selection committee was the non-profit Call to Action created by Shah and her boyfriend, Noah Alfman, a fifth-year senior engineering major at UA from Zanesville who was a three-sport athlete at Tri-Valley High School in Dresden. With the pair using their prowess on social media, Call to Action is developing a database of volunteers and serves as the middleman between those who want to make a difference in the community and non-government organizations (NGOs) seeking help.
Although Call to Action (@calltoactionakron on Instagram, [email protected]) is still in its early stages, Shah and Alfman want to take the idea national, believing the organization is perfect for college campuses. They also hope to add adults to the volunteer roll.
The award capped a difficult golf season for Shah. During a May 8 interview at Portage Country Club, Shah said she suffered a back injury this semester that she suspects was from overuse in golf. Alfman suggested spending 10 hours a day in a bad chair as she also studies for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) on June 19 also played a part.
“I went to Noah at one point during the semester, I was just bawling. ‘I don’t think I can do it, I’m in so much pain. I can’t move. I can’t sleep. I’m really scared I’m not going to be able to play,’” Shah said.
Shah didn’t perform well at the beginning of the pandemic-shortened season. Her golf clubs were stolen from her car and she didn’t have equipment of her own for the Zips’ first tournament. She was also involved in a minor car accident.
Shah said Call to Action was the one constant that kept her going.
“‘We need six volunteers for this event on Friday.’ Forget about everything else and you just get that job done,” Shah said. “At a certain point you think, ‘I’m giving so much, why are so many bad things happening to me still?’ It actually helps that you can concentrate on the people around you instead of yourself and you get through everything. I told coach, ‘No matter how bad things may seem, you can always give back. There’s no excuse.’”
UA women’s golf coach Jenny King, who nominated Shah, said she practically cried when learning Shah had been chosen for the Dinah Shore Trophy, which also brings a $10,000 prize to the UA women’s golf program.
“I’m thrilled for her and I’m just proud. She’s gone through a whole lot; everybody has — this year has not been the easiest year,” King said in a telephone interview May 8. “The first part of the semester, her clubs were stolen, she’s trying to put a set of clubs together so she can practice and get ready for the first tournament. She’s borrowing my clubs. It was a mess.
“Then her car gets into a wreck and then she gets a flat tire. She’s like, ‘I don’t know anymore, coach.’ I’m like, ‘There’s better days ahead. You’ve just got to be patient.’ In the end, it’s perseverance at its best. She never gave up and she always kept working and she was patient through it. She’s shown how resilient and tough she is. She didn’t complain hardly at all.”
King said at one point she had three injured members of her team, including Shah, going for treatment every day. But Shah’s run of bad luck turned when she tied for 14th at the Akron Invitational April 16-17 at Portage Country Club.
The following weekend at the Mid-American Conference Championships at Silver Lake Country Club, Shah led the third-place Zips with a 9-over 225 and was named to the all-tournament team. It was her second appearance in the event; she also paced UA as a freshman in 2019, when she finished 11th.
“The last two events at Portage and MAC, I had so much fun,” Shah said. “MAC I was super happy. It was like, ‘I proved I’m a good player, I can do this.’”
Shah initially rebuffed the idea of attending UA, where both her parents studied. Kaushal received his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and got his MBA in international sales from UA, while Niki, an architect, got an MBA in marketing and management. They still own their house in Silver Lake, but moved the family to India when Ivana was 6 and Evanka just a year old.
“Looking to play college golf, I was never looking into Akron that much. I wanted to be somewhere new I could explore on my own. For me, Akron was very familiar. We used to come back in the summer, play summer tournaments, live in our house when we didn’t rent it out,” Shah said. “We used to have a lot of family friends, most of their college friends are still here. I didn’t contact coach King until towards the end.”
But during Shah’s campus visit with her father, King offered Shah a full scholarship. That prompted her to choose UA over Division III programs Carnegie Mellon and NYU and the University of Illinois.
Being 25 to 30 hours away from Mumbai by air, Shah loves the close-knit team atmosphere fostered by King. The Shahs said King and her husband invite Ivana to their home for holidays because she has no family in Northeast Ohio.
“I really love coach. She’s amazing. She makes our culture very much like a family. We’re very close, very open with each other,” Shah said. “It was a smaller team, which is nice. In the end, I was like, ‘It feels familiar and college is actually so big and new, I actually want familiar.’”
Kaushal Shah almost finds it hard to comprehend all that his daughter has juggled this semester, which was capped by the national award.
“Getting this award is very, very big for her,” he said. “It’s a combination of all these things — her passion and love for the game of golf, how hard she’s worked at that, the hard work with engineering, she’s a super student with fantastic grades and has aspirations in further studies. And then leadership and community service.
“It’s a great combination to have. We were very surprised and so happy that her coach submitted her name. I think doing all these things in college is really tough.”