India’s Shubhankar Sharma wins Joburg Open, secures Open spot
RANDPARK, Johannesburg, December 11: India’s Shubhankhar Sharma overcame a lengthy weather delay and a Monday finish to win the Joburg Open by three strokes at Randpark Golf Club here on Monday.
Shubhankar, who is sponsored by Take Solutions, DLF Golf & Country Club and Indorama Ventures PLc., closed with a round of 69 to claim the biggest victory of his career on 23 under par. He took home a winner’s prize purse of US$191,532 and received 17 Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) for his win. South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen finished second on 20 under with a final round of 66.
Video courtesy European Tour Media
After a heavy thunderstorm forced the suspension of Sunday’s final round, play resumed on the Firethorn course on Monday morning. Shubhankar led Van Rooyen by four strokes with 11 holes to play on the Firethorn course. The 21-year-old rising star of Indian golf started the final round with a five-stroke lead and birdied the second hole to climb six strokes clear of the field. Van Rooyen made four birdies in five holes from the third to make a contest of it.
Shubhankar returned on Monday morning and birdied the ninth, which was the last birdie he would and also needed to make.
Shubhankar earned accolades from none other than golf legend and International Ambassador of golf, Gary Player for his stupendous achievement. “Now more than ever, golf is a global game. When I was playing the Sunshine Tour, there were very few pros from Asia playing. Now they are men and women from many different countries and cultures traveling to our country to compete. It shows how far we have come, in a relatively short time. Well done to Shubhankar on his significant victory at the Joburg Open, and I hope to see him back in South Africa for years to come. This is simply fantastic for golf in India which goes from strength to strength,” said Player.
The victory was even more special for the talented Indian as he won in the country of his golfing idol Ernie Els, who he met as an 11-year-old boy at the Delhi Golf Club in 2007. Shubhankar caught the attention of Els at a golf clinic and after watching him hit a seven iron, the ‘Big Easy’ gave him an autographed business card and said, “Well when you grow up, I’ll be your agent.”
Van Rooyen did his best to chase down the leader, adding birdies at nine and 12. But he will be left to rue his third round of 70, which left him with too much ground to make up in the final round.
“It feels fantastic,” Shubhankar said of his victory. “I’m glad I made the decision to come here after thinking about not coming. It has been absolutely fantastic and the people are very welcoming. I don’t think I will ever forget this week. This is my first win on the Asian Tour and the European Tour so it means a lot to me.”
Despite having a five-stroke lead at the start of the final round, Shubhankar stayed true to his strategy of playing aggressively.
“On the first day there were 240 players. I was just trying to play two good rounds to make the cut and the cut was really low. I was playing well and had a great start on the second day which got things going for me. As soon as I reached -13 after two days, I thought I had a chance to win.
“The only thing I was telling myself was to stay aggressive. I never wanted to be defensive. Even when I was leading I never thought of defending my lead. I actually set a target of 25 under.
“After yesterday’s rain delay I was walking back to the clubhouse and I saw Erik (van Rooyen) had just hit it to two feet so that was a birdie and it would narrow the gap to three shots. In golf, three shots is nothing. We’ve seen people drop shots. I just imagined that there was an invisible guy playing in my group and he was on 25-under. I was just trying to catch that invisible guy. I didn’t quite catch him but I’m happy that I won.
“I would love to play in the South African Open and meet Ernie Els. I met him in Macao two years ago. He is such a wonderful guy, not only in South Africa but in world golf. What happened to me in 2007 obviously changed everything for me. I was so happy and I framed the card. It just shows that small things from great players like him go a long way. I was only an 11-year-old boy back then.
“There were a lot of nerves. I got up like four times. I couldn’t sleep because it was raining so hard and I kept getting up. You have nothing to lose if you are chasing someone. It is very tough to maintain your lead. You just need to look at the bigger picture. If you played so well for three days, there’s no reason why you won’t play well in the final round. There were a few nervy moments but I’m glad I pulled through.
Shubhankar also led the three qualifying spots into The Open from this tournament. Van Rooyen and Shaun Norris took the other two for next year’s Major at Carnoustie.
“Playing in The Open is everyone’s dream. Personally it is my favourite Major championship. I’ve watched it every year on television and to be playing in it next year is absolutely fantastic,” signed off Shubhankar.
Did you know?
- Shubhankar Sharma is the 11th Asian Tour member in his 20s to win in 2017. He is also the 11th first-time winner this season.
- Shubhankar Sharma took home a winner’s prize purse of US$191,532 and received 17 Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) points, thanks to his victory.
- He is the fifth Indian golfer to win on the Asian Tour this year.
- At the age of 21 years and 143 days, Sharma is the second youngest Indian golfer to win a first Asian Tour title after Gaganjeet Bhullar (21 years and 90 days).
- He is the third youngest player to win on the Asian Tour in 2017 after Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand and Micah Lauren Shin of the United States.
- Sharma is now the first Indian to win in South Africa. He also holds the record as the first Asian to lift the Joburg Open trophy.
- He punched his ticket to The Open in 2018 which will be his first-ever appearance in a Major tournament.
- The Joburg Open was extended to Monday after thunderstorms forced officials to call off play on Sunday. Sharma returned to the eighth hole which he parred before making birdie on the next hole.
- He totalled 26 birdies at the Joburg Open and only dropped three bogeys in his opening round. He was flawless in the final 54 holes.
Driver: Callaway GBB Epic 9* Shaft: Grafalloy Pro Lite 3.5 S
Fairway1: TaylorMade M2 (2016) 15* Shaft: Mitsubishi-Chemical Diamana BF Series 70 S
Hybrid1: Callaway Epic HB 18* Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD DI HY 85 X
Irons: Titleist 714 CB (4-P) Shaft: Nippon Shaft NS PRO 1050 S
Wedge1: Cleveland RTX-3 50*
Wedge2: Cleveland RTX-3 56*
Wedge3: Cleveland RTX-3 60*
Putter: Titleist Scotty Cameron Red X
Ball: Titleist Pro V1 X (2017)
Scores after round 4 of the Joburg Open being played at the par 72, 7595 Yards Firethorne C course (am – denotes amateur):
264 – Shubhankar SHARMA (IND) 69-61-65-69.
267 – Erik VAN ROOYEN (RSA) 64-67-70-66.
270 – Shaun NORRIS (RSA) 69-68-68-65, Tapio PULKKANEN (FIN) 65-64-73-68.
272 – Marcus ARMITAGE (ENG) 69-66-67-70.
274 – Joachim B. HANSEN (DEN) 66-67-71-70, James MORRISON (ENG) 64-70-67-73.
275 – Paul PETERSON (USA) 70-67-69-69, Charlie FORD (ENG) 70-64-71-70, Jinho CHOI (KOR) 69-66-70-70, Daniel GREENE (RSA) 70-68-67-70, Christopher BLOMSTRAND (SWE) 70-68-62-75.
276 – Victor PEREZ (FRA) 73-66-69-68, Mikko KORHONEN (FIN) 66-65-75-70, Hennie DU PLESSIS (RSA) 71-67-68-70, Hennie OTTO (RSA) 70-68-67-71, Oliver BEKKER (RSA) 66-70-68-72, Ross MCGOWAN (ENG) 66-72-66-72.
277 – Matthew BALDWIN (ENG) 64-74-71-68, Vaughn GROENEWALD (RSA) 71-66-71-69, Dean BURMESTER (RSA) 66-73-68-70, Jaco AHLERS (RSA) 67-68-72-70, Mark FOSTER (ENG) 71-68-68-70, Aaron RAI (ENG) 69-67-71-70, Gavin GREEN (MAS) 70-67-70-70, Steven BROWN (ENG) 68-65-71-73.