Subhankar Sharma has reinstated India’s name on the world golfing map by lifting the Jo’burg Open in December’17. Yet, the 21-year-old has a long course to traverse before he reaches the epitome of his ambitions, discusses Sharma, in an interview with Aditya K. Halder.
Golf is often sequestered as a game reserved for the crème de la crème. Especially in India, where sports such as cricket rule the heart of the nation, golfers often remains in the shadow. But, our country does love champions – the reason why Tiger Woods is a name not unknown to most.
So, when a certain 21-year-old Subhankar Sharma forays into the scene out of nowhere and wins a European Tour championship (Jo'burg Open in December last year), folks do sit up and take note. The victory made him the youngest Indian – and the fifth (after Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh, SSP Chowrasia and Anirban Lahiri) – to win on a European tour. Interestingly, Subhankar was actually planning on skipping the event in South Africa.
"I was planning on not going to Johannesburg because the second half of the season was very busy," said the 21-year-old professional golfer. "Just before that I went to Mauritius, which was my seventh or eighth event of the year. And the fact that no other Indian was going to the event was going to leave me without a roommate, and I was mulling over to skip it. I thought maybe I should go back to India, take a week off and play a tournament in the country. But, again, I thought I was playing well and feeling confident, plus it was a European tour. So, I took the flight and I am glad I did it. It turned out to be a great week for me."
The victory took him to No 2 on the European Tour Order of Merit with full status on the big stage. The tournament saw him go through ups and down as he fell short of his target 4 round score of 25-under by two shots but Shubhankar said a level-headed performance eked out the win for him.
"The best thing that week—I was very calm and in golf, it is very important to remain calm. I never got ahead of myself; even when I was five shots ahead, I wasn't really thinking of winning and kept the negative thoughts away. I was trying to be in my presence; hitting shots and trying to do my best out of every shot," said the golfer from Chandigarh. "It wasn't like I was fantastic; it was more like I was able to recover from every situation. My putting was great that week and that was the biggest take away from that event. Even with my B game, I was able to win it. I was so calm and composed that I was able to hit the put."
Subhankar, who would love to talk through the day about golf, analysed how he was able to plan all his moves that week in Mzansi as the game itself gave him time to do so.
"Golf is a sport where you are not running fast; you get a lot of time to plan your next shot. You take a shot then you have two minutes to walk down for another; the mind can get bogged down with negative thoughts. I was glad those thoughts didn't find me that week and I didn't get ahead of myself," he stressed.
Things were just getting started for the Young Turk as he soon bagged another European tour title – Malaysia Open. Sharma shot 62 to lift the title in Kuala Lumpur early February; the same 62 that he shot a couple of years back during the Manila Masters to tie fourth on the final day (from below 30) to lock up his Asian Tour card. The two-time European tour champion saw sententious improvement in his ranking as he shot from as low as World no 482 (before his miracle in the rainbow nation) to World no 75 in no time. Subhankar said it wasn't a sudden rise as he reached here gradually.
"I haven't really done anything differently recently and it was more like learning on the tour because golfing is a journey; you keep playing and learning. Playing more, I got to learn a lot because conditions and the grass everywhere is different. Every tournament is a different place. When you have two practice rounds, you are actually studying the ground; making notes of where to hit and where not to. It is a lot of mental work. I have been playing on the Asian Tour for two years and I have seen courses and learnt many new aspects. I have matured a lot over the years; finding fault in my games and working on them," said the 3rd-year Delhi University's Political Science student.
The experience did come in handy because Subhankar soon made the entire golf fraternity realise that this 21-year old is not just another bloke with the clubs from India. Making his debut at the PGA tour World Golf Championship in Mexico, the Indian golfer surprised everyone by reaching the top on the penultimate day. However, the failure to hold on to his nerves on the final day saw him crash out with five bogeys – something he never did during his two European titles – in the final round to finish tied ninth. Phil Mickelson ended a five-year drought to lift the PGA tour.
"I took the lead but I couldn't finish it off but that's how the game is. It teaches you something new every day. I am content with the fact that I did really good for a debutant in the tournament. I will cherish the opportunity to play with Phil," said a cheerful Subhankar.
Subhankar soon had to endure similar faith back in the Indian Open in Gurugram – a core sanction event that he was looking forward to playing in the season – as he struggled with his putting to drop three double bogeys, three bogeys against six birdies to total four-under 284 to finish tied seventh despite being an overnight leader.
"I had too many bogeys for my liking at the final day of the Indian Open. Those mistakes led to me to do the catching to the top and never managed to get there. But, I am happy with my overall performance there, I managed to finish with a four-under total," he explained.
The last two failures don't haunt Subhankar as he sets his sight on the Open Championship he always fancied: British Open. He earned the spot for the link course major through his win in Jo'burg and is looking forward to the toughest challenge that presents itself in the course which is famous for its pot bunkers that force a golfer to think out of the box.
"I have always been fascinated by the British Open. I have fond memories of watching golf greats winning it. Whether it's Tiger Woods victory after his dad passing away or Rory Mcllroy's win, I remember them all. But my experience on link courses is very limited. I have only played once and just one round. But being on the European tour now, I will get to play in the Scottish and Irish Open, and that should prepare me for the British Open," he said.
The current world no 66's initial plan was to get himself inside the top 50 to get an entry into the Masters tournament to be held in Georgia, USA (one of golf's four major championships) but it won't matter anymore as the tournament committee extended him an invitation to the majors, sighting his recent performance. Subhankar hopes to secure that one major win to break the ice and beat the epitome.
"I would like to win a major, of course, I would love to win many but winning a major to start with would be great and get to the world no 1 spot is also one of my many ambitions," he concluded. One doesn't know if he will ever win a major or not; or reach the no 1 spot like his inspiration Tiger Woods. But, his rise confirms that the euphoria for golf is not fading anytime soon, instead, it could be getting stronger by the day.