India’s new golfing sensation Shubhankar Sharma says the pain of not winning the World Golf Championship in Mexico was “washed away” when he got the invite for the Augusta Masters, where he considers himself a real contender for the title.
And such was his passion to play at the Augusta Masters that Shubhankar spent his nights in Mexico, watching videos of the past Masters tournaments.
“Gurbaaz Mann was on my bag for three weeks and after I missed the cuts at Oman and Qatar, I told him, Gurbaaz I have to play the Masters and I remember before sleeping everyday we used to have this night show watching the Masters like the 1986 Masters etc and so we had a Masters night every night at WGC,” Sharma said.
The 21-year-old Indian, who held the clubhouse lead on the second and third day at the WGC, had opportunities to do so as a PGA Tour winner but couldn’t qualify after finishing a creditable Tied ninth.
However, that didn’t matter as he received a special invite from Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley to play at the year’s first Masters to be held from April 5-8.
“I was quite tough on myself throughout the flight back to India, as I didn’t finish the tournament the way I wanted but all the pain got washed away when I got the call. It has sunk in now and I’m really happy to be able to play in the Masters Tournament. It’s every golfer’s dream to play in the Masters, and I’m no exception,” he said.
“I got into the British open after winning the Joburg Open, so it’s my favourite though you can’t compare the majors. I have watched all of them, I remember all the nights when I got up at night and watch them. It is like the Wimbledon.”
Talking about his expectations from the Masters, Sharma said: “I think in golf, anything is possible, you have to play well for four days. You can definitely compete with the best. I know that if I play my best, I’m good for a top five, or even a win at the Masters Tournament. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Asked if he wants to be paired with any particular player, he said: “There is no player in particular that I want to be paired with. I’m just happy to be able to be part of the tournament. I don’t think I’ll be awestruck by any player.
“I’m looking forward to playing at the Amen Corner. Every hole has their own challenges.”
The 21-year-old from Chandigarh said he took a lot of positives from his campaign at the World Golf Championship-Mexico last week.
“I played in front of a massive crowd. People were cheering me on. I was very happy to receive the support. I gave my 100 per cent, but in golf, sometimes things don’t work out for you.”
He was paired with legendary Phil Mickelson at WGC but Sharma said he didn’t get intimidated by him and it didn’t affect his game in anyway.
“I was paired with a legend of the game. I wasn’t focusing on him, but I did notice some of the great shots that he made. It was great to see how he has conducted himself. Being paired with him didn’t affect my game at all.”
All eyes would be on Sharma as India look to retain the Hero Indian Open trophy which has been won by SSP Chawrasia twice in 2016 and 2017 and Anirban Lahiri in 2015 edition.
“The Indian Open is very close to my heart. I witness every Indian Open before I turned professional. It has always been a dream for me if I can win it. I’m really looking forward to it. The field is great and the course is well maintained. Winning the All-Indian Amateur is fantastic, but nothing beats winning the Indian Open,” Sharma said.
He, however, doesn’t see himself as a favourite to lift the crown.
“I don’t think I’m the top contender, as I haven’t won the tournament before. After last week, I got a lot of attention. Playing here actually has less pressure compared to last week, because I’m playing here at home,” he said.
“The toughest competition here at the Hero Indian Open is the golf course. It’s about managing yourself out there. Not a lot of players will finish under par this week. The course tougher compared to last year and it’s going to be a test of patience. A lot of great players are playing this week. So, may the best golfer win!”
Talking about his recent achievements, Sharma said: “For a start, I wasn’t even sure if I was even going to play in the Joburg Open. Even after my win, I was just trying to play as much as I can. I wanted to show everyone that my win in South Africa wasn’t a fluke, then I managed to win the Maybank Championship, which is obviously good.”
“It has been a big learning experience for me, as I was playing at new courses beyond Asia.”