THE BENGAL TIGER
IT’S ONE o’clock in the afternoon, and Shubhankar Sharma has just signed his card after completing his round at Lumine Golf Club in Spain. The 21-year-old Indian is about to finish 68th at the European Tour Qualifying School and miss a golden opportunity of gaining his playing card. This is a moment that would usually become a huge deterrent for most young players. But Sharma isn’t like most young players. For starters, he has a father who has always believed that it’s a matter of when not if his son succeeds. Sound familiar? It’s about to … “He started at seven and hasn’t put the club down after that,” said Mohan Lan Sharma, the former Indian Army Colonel, who quit the forces to help his son pursue golf after his colleague Tushar Lahiri, the father of Anirban, spotted the young boy’s talent. “He got hooked and married to the game, his temperament is in sync, he’s calm, composed, humble and down to earth, and thinks golf is bigger than him, therefore he is always improving. “What matters is how well he plays and stands up to the competition week-after-week. In the long run that is what matters, and he will, he will stand up.”
And that’s exactly what Sharma did. Just two weeks after the disappointment of Qualifying School, he announced himself to the world by winning the Joburg Open, earning his Tour card and replacing Lahiri as the youngest Indian to win a European title. Sharma senior wasted no time and told reporters exactly what he thought the future held for his son: “He will be World No.1 one day. Call it a hunch, an instinct, a feeling; I see, understand and study a lot of golf, so that’s why I know.” Fast-forward another four weeks and Sharma had won his second event – the Maybank Championship – in just his 13th start, rocketing to World No.72 and becoming his nation’s highest ranked player. The young prodigy will be welcomed home this month for the Indian Open, where he will have the chance to affirm his position as India’s new No.1. He leads the Race to Dubai at the time of writing and will play his first major in July when he competes at Carnoustie for The Open Championship.
“I don’t see why me, or any other Indian, can’t win a Major,” Sharma said. “With so many coming through and contending, I think once we have confidence and more star players, I don’t see why we can’t see an Indian Major champion in seven to 10 years.”
Sharma is clearly the most promising talent to emerge from India for quite some time – and any resemblance to the upbringing of Tiger Woods and the relationship he had with his father can only add to the excitement of what’s to come.