India’s Shubhankar Sharma buoyed by Masters invite ahead of Hero Indian Open 2018
Gurugram, March 7: India’s latest golf star has arrived at the Hero Indian Open with a spring in his step after accepting an invitation to compete at this year’s Masters Tournament.
Shubhankar Sharma, who is sponsored by Take Solutions, DLF and Indorama Ventures Plc., has had a sensational year so far and currently tops the Race to Dubai Rankings presented by Rolex after winning his first two European Tour titles, and securing a top ten finish at his maiden World Golf Championship event in Mexico last week.
He doesn’t rate himself as the top contender at Delhi’s DLF Golf and Country Club this week, but his countrymen have been quick to heap praise on the 21-year-old. He will be part of one of the strongest home contingents ever assembled at the Hero Indian Open, which includes defending champion SSP Chawrasia – who could secure a record third consecutive win this year – and 2015 winner Anirban Lahiri.
Sharma admits he was slightly disappointed to finish ninth at the WGC-Mexico Championship after leading going into the final round, but the invite to compete at Augusta National has lifted his spirits, and he is confident about his prospects at his first Major.
“The Hero Indian Open is very close to my heart and I have grown up watching it on TV and I have also been coming to the tournament almost every year,” said Sharma, who eventually finished tied Tied-9th in Mexico but caught the attention of the golfing world with his skills and calm demeanour.
“Playing in front of your home crowd is the best thing in any sport. I am glad that I am back and I will try to win this tournament against such a great field.”
“To me, completing the double would be like Tiger winning the US Amateur and the US Open. It’s every Indian golfer’s dream to win the Hero Indian Open and there are no two ways about it.”
Sharma, now 66th in the world and the highest-ranked player in the field, used to practice and play at the DLF Golf & Country Club before shifting his residence to Chandigarh last year. But he is well aware of the intricacies of the Gary Player-designed layout.
“I shifted when they finished with building this course,” said Sharma, winner of the Joburg Open and the Maybank Championship this season.
“I used to come to the range every day. I still remember when they were building the back nine. The front nine was built first and I have played a lot on the front nine. Let’s say I have basically played 70 percent time the front nine and 30 percent the back nine.”
When asked who his toughest rival could be this week, the youngster replied, “The toughest competition here is the golf course. It’s about managing yourself out there. Not a lot of players will finish under par this week. The course is playing tougher compared to last year and it’s going to be a test of patience. A lot of great players are playing this week. So, may the best golfer win.”
Sharma said the loss notwithstanding, he has learnt a lot from his final round in Mexico. “I took a lot of positives from the final round in Mexico,” he added.
“I played in front of a massive crowd. People were cheering for Phil (Mickelson), but they were cheering me on as well. I was very happy to receive the support. I gave my 100 per cent, but in golf, sometimes things don’t work out for you.”
Sharma has been paired for the first two rounds with Andrew Johnston and Julian Suri and goes out on Thursday from the 10th tee at 7:30 am.
Meanwhile Chawrasia, who has four runner up places at this event in addition to his two wins, said that he is focused on retaining his title in Delhi this week, but has one eye on improving his form in Europe after winning all four of his European Tour titles so far in his homeland. He has been grouped alongside Lahiri, his good friend and rival on the course, with the two local favourites teeing it up alongside recent European Tour winner Wade Ormsby of Australia on Thursday.