Shubhankar Sharma was without doubt the biggest star but wasn’t the only winner that Indian golf celebrated in a stellar year, which also featured strong performances by amateurs and the ladies. The calendar year 2018 saw six professional wins for the country’s golfers. Four of them were on the Asian Tour and two of them co-sanctioned by Europe and another by Japan.
A sixth title came from Rahil Gangjee, who took 14 years to register an Asian Tour win, and then added a second title on the Asian Development Tour in Bengaluru. The Indians continued to be a huge force on home soil and won two of the three Asian Tour events in India and an additional ADT title, too.
The 22-year-old Sharma turned pro when he was still a few months away from his 17th birthday in 2013 but showed that he had it in him to make it big.
Criss-crossing the world, Sharma, after his monumental success in winning the Joburg Open in December 2017, added the Maybank Championships in February this year.
Then he juggled the USPGA, the European and the Asian Tours. He played no less than 33 events plus the US Open qualifiers, missed a lot of cuts (14), but made the world sit up and take note by leading on his WGC debut at Mexico.
He played the final round with Phil Mickelson and eventually ended Tied-ninth. Later in the year he led into the final at CIMB Classic, also a PGA tour event co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour, but ended T-10.
“I am proud that I managed two Top-10s on PGA Tour events,” said Sharma.
He was given a special invite to the Masters and went on to play all four Majors and four WGC events.
He took early lead in the Asian Tour standings and held on to it to become the fifth but the youngest Indian to win the Order of Merit.
He basked in glory at the Tour’s finale in Jakarta, where veterans like Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal, both past winners of the OOM, and Anirban Lahiri, another Order of Merit topper, stood and applauded the young lad.
He also won the Harry Cotton Rookie of the Year on European Tour, where he also played the year-end Tour Championships in Dubai. And it was all made sweeter by the Arjuna Award in August-September.
“This was certainly the best year of my life and no matter what I achieve, I will always cherish 2018 and to better it will be my goal,” said Sharma.
If Sharma held the spotlight for most of the year, Rahil Gangjee made the much-awaited comeback to limelight. After winning in his rookie year back in 2004, he was winless as he travelled to Web.Com Tour and came back to Asia a few years ago.
Time and again he came close, but finally broke through for a second time at the Asia-Pacific Open at a co-sanctioned event in Japan, which opened the doors of Japan Tour for him. He later added an ADT title in Bengaluru winning the Louis Philippe Cup.
Gaganjeet Bhullar, who was laid low for a while with injuries, continued his comeback with a string of great results and topped it with a win in far-off Fiji.
That gave him a record ninth Asian Tour win and a first one on the European and Australasian Tours, which co-sanctioned the event.
“The goal is to get to Top-100, preferably Top-50 and try for the big events,” remarked Bhullar, who is looking at an even better 2019.
Khalin Joshi, Sharma’s roommate for many years, won the Panasonic Open India in New Delhi and ended the year with the PGTI’s Indian order of Merit.
India’s massive talent bank came to fore as the Take Solutions Masters made its debut on the Asian Tour, and Viraj Madappa, just 21, emerged winner.
Then there were the amateurs, too. Rayhan Thomas, long seen as a future star, showed that potential by finishing Tied-second at the Asia-Pacific Amateurs, a prestigious event, from where the winner goes to the Masters. Thomas now gets a spot on the Open qualifiers- Final stage to try and get to The Open in 2019.
Kshitij Naveed Kaul made a successful transition from amateur to pro ranks as he finished Tied-sixth on his debut at Panasonic Open.
The ladies weren’t far behind either. So far Aditi Ashok was the flag-bearer but others indicated that the cupboard is not bare.
This year at the LET Q-School, India had a record seven players in the Final Stage, and of them Astha Madan, who studied in Sacramento, US, made it as Tied-seventh, while Diksha Dagar, who had an hearing impairment, was T-21.They got limited status with a few starts on LET in 2019.
So, while Anirban Lahiri and Aditi Ashok continue to fly the Indian flag on the elite PGA Tour, there is lots to come behind them.
The addition of Take Solutions as a new Asian tour event in India to go alongside the well-established Hero Indian Open (the richest event in the region at US $ 1.75m and sanctioned by Asia and Europe), and the Panasonic Open India, was a welcome move.
The added good news for Indian golf was the sanctioning of World Ranking Points for the Indian PGTI Tour, which will have stronger fields and provide greater incentives for the Indian golfers, as they make a bid for places at the 2020 Olympic Games.