In April, Shubhankar Sharma represented India at the Masters. In May, he is losing sleep over his bachelor’s. It’s not because the 21-year-old golfer shuns academics — far from it — but because he will have to make a hard choice this month: golf or studies.
Sharma, who recently became the youngest Indian to play at Augusta, is a BA Political Science (Honours) student at Delhi University’s School of Open Learning (SOL). His Part-III exams are set to begin in the second half of May. But it overlaps with his golfing commitments, which include participating in several prestigious PGA Tour events in the United States as he seeks to improve his world ranking and qualify for the US Open, the second Major of the year, to be held at Shinnecock Hills, New York, in June.
DU’s rules require its undergraduate students to finish the programme within a maximum of five years from its commencement. Shubhankar has already skipped the exams once — in 2016 — and taken three years to clear Part I and II of his course.
“This time, during the exams window, he will be playing one of his most important events in golf all over the world. You have to choose between the two,” says his father Col (Retd) Mohan Sharma. “Earlier, we thought we’ll skip tournaments and take the exams. But now with the kind of game he has reached, it will make no sense to not go and play there,” he adds.
Indeed, Shubhankar is operating in a zone few Indian golfers have reached at such a young age. In the past six months, he has lifted two European Tour titles and came close to winning the World Golf Championships in Mexico in March. It made the world sit up and take notice. Five-time Major winner Phil Mickelson gushed about how talented a player Shubhankar was, while former world No.1 Rory McIlroy invited him to play a practice round before the Masters.
But if he has become so good at golf, wouldn’t it be an easy decision to simply put his studies on the backburner? The Sharma household, however, places a premium on education.
“Education, at the end of the day, enables you to live a dignified life. It makes you a good individual. It builds character, tells you what you are,” insists Sharma senior. “People like him, exceptional talent, who are doing India proud at whatever level, they should be given a chance to complete formal education. They should be allowed to take exams whenever it is convenient for them.”
He cites the example of National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS), the route Shubhankar took to finish his senior secondary education. NIOS’s On-Demand Exam System (ODES) allows students to take exams as per their wish and preparation. Moreover, they can reappear as many times as they want in a year. There’s no corresponding arrangement at DU’s School of Open Learning.
“It’s his fourth year, so we are running against time. He can sit next year, but since the exams are always in May-June, the dates will clash again next year. This year, for example, he is targeting three Majors, three Rolex series events and a World Gold Championship in that period — he just cannot miss this time. Therefore, he needs to get an exemption,” says Sharma.