As the only Indian golfer in the field of 240 players in the Joburg Open, 21-year-old Shubhankar Sharma came to the tri-sanctioned event on the European, Asian and Sunshine Tours after playing on three continents. Sharma, who compiled an aggregate of 23-under to beat Erik Van Rooyen of South Africa and win his first professional title on the international circuit, also became the youngest Indian to win on the European Tour surpassing Anirban Lahiri. Monday’s win catapulted the Panchkula-based golfer to 226th spot in the rankings, a rise of 236 places, apart from gaining a spot in next year’s Open Championship. In a chat with The Indian Express, Sharma talked about his win, playing on two separate courses, his scheduling plans and competing in The Open at Carnoustie next year. Excerpts:
You have become the youngest Indian golfer to win on the European Tour. With a lead of five shots going into the final round and bad weather hitting the tournament, how tough was it?
It’s always difficult when you face breaks due to bad weather. Last evening, I was sitting in the clubhouse for more than four hours before play was called off. I talked with friends and my family and later watched some videos of Tiger Woods on Youtube. I was the only Indian player in the field of 240 here and decided to play in Johannesburg a week ago. I played in Spain, Hong Kong and Mauritius before playing here. So the last one month has seen me waiting a lot at airports (laughs). It was a tri-sanctioned event and we do not get many of these on the European Tour. I wanted to give it a try and earning a European Tour card will require rescheduling my plans for next year.
The Joburg Open is played on two different golf courses. For a player who has played on the Asian Tour for the last one year, was it a difficult adjustment?
It was like playing with two different mindsets. Back home, sometimes I play at the Chandigarh Golf Club and the Panchkula Golf Club in the same day. Here I had to play once at Firethorn course in the second round apart from playing the Bushwillow Course three times. And when I started the second round, I just thought about seeing it as a new tournament. The score of 61 boosted my confidence.
You had five top-five finishes on the Asian Tour before this win. What lies ahead for you and your thoughts on playing on the European Tour?
This was my second full year on the Asian Tour and there were some close finishes. When I won the Take Open in Chandigarh in October, I spent some time with Jeev (Milkha Singh) sir and earlier this month, I also talked with Arjun Atwal in Mauritius and Anirban Lahiri, who has been a childhood friend. And we keep discussing about the game plan needed for the European Tour. Sometimes, one needs small adjustments. We keep looking for new putters in Europe or USA. Asian Tour and European tours have different playing conditions and need different approaches. Now since I have got a card for both tours, I need a proper balance.
You also bagged a spot in the Open Championship. How do you see this opportunity and also the road to Tokyo 2020?
I remember watching Tiger Woods winning The Open in 2005. Playing in The Open is a dream for every golfer. When Anirban played in the Masters, we talked about his experience and with his current rankings, I can say that he too will be playing in The Open. Carnoustie is a challenging course and the thick rough poses a big challenge. It is a links course and patience and club selection will be the key. As for the 2020 Olympics, there is plenty of time and winning more tournaments will help my world rankings.