Shubhankar Sharma shows the way for future of Indian golf

Author: DILEEP PREMACHANDRANID: 1520884032843169600Tue, 2018-03-13 01:36BANGALORE: “Golf is a global game, and throughout our history we have extended invitations to deserving international players not otherwise qualified,” said Fred Ridley, the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, in a statement last week.
“As his results have proven, Shubhankar Sharma is a remarkable young player, and we look forward to welcoming him to Augusta National in April.”
Masters invitations such as that are rare — Japan’s Ryo Ishikawa received the last one in 2013. But such has been Shubhankar’s progress in his fifth year as a professional that it is unlikely that golf’s finest, such as Phil Mickelson, will mistake him for a journalist again. That happened during the WGC-Mexico Championship, where the 21-year-old had the third-round lead at -13, before a poor final-day 74 pushed him down into a tie for ninth place.
Last weekend, at the Indian Open in New Delhi, he suffered another final-round meltdown, with three double-bogeys and three bogeys taking the sheen off the six birdies he made. He eventually finished in a tie for seventh, enough to extend his lead over England’s Tommy Fleetwood in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai rankings.
With victories in Johannesburg and at the Maybank Championship in Kuala Lampur, Shubhankar’s earnings for the year are nudging toward €1 million ($1.2 million). That is a far cry from the 5,000 rupees ($76) that Rohtas Singh got for winning the inaugural Dunlop Invitational Golf Championship at the Delhi Golf Course 40 years ago.
In that era, India’s best golfers, like Rohtas, Basad Ali and Ali Sher — the first Indian to win the Indian Open back in 1991 — were caddies-turned-professionals, men whose hard slogs to the top had elicited little more than disdain from the elite that populated the clubs.
More than a generation on, golf remains largely the preserve of the well-off, and those from the armed services, who are given access to the best facilities. Mohan Lal Sharma, Shubhankar’s father, was a colonel in the Indian Army until he quit his job to become his son’s main source of support as they traveled the world.
Introduced to the game at the age of seven, on the advice of Tushar Lahiri — an army doctor whose son, Anirban, was the highest-ranked Indian pro until Shubhankar zipped past him this season — the young man was part of a group of kids that thrived under the guidance of Jesse Grewal.
Grewal left a job in the tea gardens more than two decades ago to be the guiding light behind the coaching programs at the Chandigarh Golf Club and the Golf Academy in the city. Unlike other clubs, where even members’ kids can struggle to get tee times, the Chandigarh club encouraged the youngsters to play. Ajeetesh Sandhu and Himmat Singh Rai came from the same stable and have both won Asian Tour events.
But after the era of the caddies, the pathbreakers for Indian golf in an international sense were three men now in their mid-40s. Jeev Milkha Singh, the son of the Milkha Singh, who finished fourth in the 400m hurdles at the 1960 Rome Olympics, is now 46, and won on both the European and Asian Tours. He also finished tied for ninth at the US PGA Championship in 2008.
Jyoti Randhawa, who twice topped the Asian Order of Merit, is a year younger, while the 44-year-old Arjun Atwal won the Wyndham Championship on the US PGA Tour in 2010, beating David Toms. Lahiri, now 30, carried on that tradition, with his best finish in a major being a tie for fifth at the PGA Championship in 2015.
The challenge for Shubhankar is to find the consistency that proved elusive for his seniors, none of whom really left a dent on the PGA Tour. His fundamentals are sound, with a game that is technically well grooved and solid rather than John Daly spectacular. A vegetarian, he is also an incredibly focused young man who has refused an equipment contract so that he can fill his golf bag with the clubs he feels most comfortable with.
In Mexico, his caddy was Gurbaaz Mann, who has become a mentor for young golfers after his own playing dreams were ruined by a hip injury. Mann attended Arizona State, Mickelson’s alma mater, and has promised Shubhankar that he will find him a caddy who can help him thrive on a PGA Tour currently agog with excitement over the resurgent form shown by Tiger Woods.
Shubhankar was less than a year old when Woods won his first Masters. Next month, he will get the opportunity to rub shoulders with the game’s elite, at a course second only to St. Andrews when it comes to golfing prestige. Time will tell if he can avoid the metaphorical bunkers and water hazards that prevented the likes of Jeev Milkha Singh from challenging the very best.
Main category: SportsTags: golfIndiaIndian OpenShubhankar Sharmarelated_nodes: Home favorite Shubhankar Sharma breaks course record at Indian Open

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