Asian An­gle

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Chuah Choo Chi­ang

Asia’s young and as­pir­ing stars have blos­somed in near per­fect sync to de­liver golf­ing bliss to the con­ti­nent’s grow­ing le­gion of fans at the Mas­ters.

As the aza­leas and dog­wood pre­pare to bloom, sig­nalling the ar­rival of spring and the year’s first ma­jor, the Mas­ters Tour­na­ment, Asia’s young and as­pir­ing stars have blos­somed in near per­fect sync to de­liver golf­ing bliss to the con­ti­nent’s grow­ing le­gion of fans, writes Chuah Choo Chi­ang.

Amongst the emerg­ing crop of lead­ing re­gional per­form­ers, young In­dian Shub­hankar Sharma has un­doubt­edly been the name on every­body’s lips fol­low­ing his dou­ble vic­tory in South Africa and Malaysia. Plus, a mes­meris­ing de­but at the World Golf Cham­pi­onships-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship, where he held the 36-hole, and 54-hole lead be­fore fin­ish­ing tied ninth an­nounced his ar­rival on one of the game’s the big­gest stage.

At 21, Sharma is prov­ing him­self to be the real deal. He can con­sis­tently hit it straight with ev­ery club in his bag, he putts the ball beau­ti­fully and owns a calm tem­per­a­ment thanks largely to med­i­ta­tion taught by his mother since he was a child. In ad­di­tion, Sharma is hum­ble and has the per­son­al­ity that ev­ery par­ent would be proud of.

Jeev Milkha Singh, one of In­dia’s great­est play­ers, has la­belled his young coun­try­man as the “com­plete pack­age”. While Ar­jun At­wal, the only In­dian to

win on the PGA TOUR to date, calls Sharma a young man with an “older soul” which is ev­i­dent through his ma­tu­rity on and off the golf course. Anir­ban Lahiri has pre­dicted it would only be a mat­ter of time be­fore Sharma joins him on the PGA TOUR.

An army brat where his father, Colonel Mo­han Sharma served in the In­dian armed forces and was coaxed by Lahiri’s father to teach his son the game, Shub­hankar has been a great bene­fac­tor of the Asian Tour, the re­gion’ gov­ern­ing body for the pro­fes­sional game.

Through play­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties across the re­gion, the first sight of Sharma as a new prospect came at the 2016 Re­sorts World Manila Mas­ters where he fired a fi­nal round 62 to fin­ish tied fourth, which helped seal his full card for the 2017 Asian Tour sea­son.

Sharma went on to reg­is­ter four top-10s dur­ing 2017, and sev­eral weeks af­ter miss­ing out on his Euro­pean Tour card at Qual­i­fy­ing School late last year, the young In­dian pulled off a ca­reer-chang­ing vic­tory at the Joburg Open in South Africa, high­lighted by a stun­ning 61 dur­ing the sec­ond round.

In Fe­bru­ary, Sharma was at it again, this time pro­duc­ing some fi­nal round fire­works at the May­bank Cham­pi­onship in Malaysia where he closed with a scin­til­lat­ing 62 to win by two strokes. From be­ing ranked a lowly 521st in Novem­ber, Sharma has since shot up to 64th on the world rank­ings (as at March 12) and seized the lead on both the Euro­pean Tour’s Race to Dubai and Asian Tour’s Habi­tat for Hu­man­ity rank­ings.

The early sea­son suc­cess re­warded Sharma with a maiden World Golf Cham­pi­onships ap­pear­ance in Mex­ico City and com­pet­ing against a back­drop of global stars which in­cluded the world’s top-5 golfers and 45 play­ers from the top-50, Sharma bril­liantly rose to the oc­ca­sion and cap­ti­vated fans and me­dia alike with his won­der­ful all-around game and charm­ing per­son­al­ity.

Cards of 65 and 66 pushed him into the halfway lead and a third round 69 kept him two ahead of a star-stud­ded pack. It earned him a fi­nal day group­ing with World Golf Hall of Famer, Phil Mick­el­son, who won the tour­na­ment for his 43rd PGA TOUR ti­tle af­ter a pul­sat­ing fi­nal day shootout. Such was the dizzy­ing ex­cite­ment back home

that #GoShub­hankar trended on Twit­ter in In­dia dur­ing the fi­nal day in Mex­ico.

De­spite his fi­nal round 74, Sharma stood very tall and made time for his new­found fans by tak­ing pho­tos with them and per­formed the oblig­a­tory me­dia du­ties with a smile de­spite the huge dis­ap­point­ment on a day when his put­ter went dead cold.

Mick­el­son, who had ini­tially brushed Sharma off as me­dia when the In­dian tried to say “hello” to him on the prac­tice putting green be­fore round three, was full of praise of the young In­dian.

“I saw how well he struck the golf ball. He hit a beau­ti­ful tee shot on 1, and you can tell he can re­ally play. I saw some of the putts, some of the high­lights with the put­ter. I know he’s a very tal­ented player, and I be­lieve he’s lead­ing the Or­der of Merit on the Euro­pean Tour, so I know what a great player Mr Sharma is. I prob­a­bly shouldn’t say that, he’s 26 years younger than me!” said Mick­el­son, who pipped reign­ing FedExCup No. 1 Justin Thomas with a par on the first sud­den-death play­off hole to win the WGCMex­ico Cham­pi­onship.

As Sharma boarded the long flight home to Delhi, the let­down was greatly re­duced when he re­ceived a phone call from Au­gusta Na­tional Golf Club, in­form­ing him that he was the re­cip­i­ent of a spe­cial in­vi­ta­tion to play in the Mas­ters Tour­na­ment. It will be his Ma­jor de­but.

He tweeted: “I am deeply hon­oured to be found wor­thy of in­vi­ta­tion by the Mas­ters Com­mit­tee. It’s a dream come true. My grat­i­tude.”

What­ever hap­pens come the Mas­ters weeks, amidst the blooming aza­leas and dog­woods at Au­gust Na­tional, Sharma’s con­tin­ued rise in the game, as with suc­cess shown by fel­low Asians, Li Hao­tong of China and Thai­land’s Ki­radech Aphibarn­rat, only bode well for the game in Asia and around the world.

He will cer­tainly cher­ish the drive along Mag­no­lia Lane, and the road to star­dom and the PGA TOUR could just be around the next turn. This could truly be a mem­o­rable spring for Sharma and Asian golf.

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