India’s rising golf star Shubhankar Sharma and Anirban Lahiri are expected to be in race to claim a spot in the International team for the Presidents Cup, to be held at the historic Royal Melbourne Golf Club in December 2019.
Earlier this week, Ernie Els, a member of the International team when it scored its lone win in 1998, and Tiger Woods were announced as the captains. Both were vice captains for their respective teams in 2017.
While the 21-year-old Shubhankar has emerged as one of the biggest potentials on Asian and European Tours, where he leads both Order of Merits, Lahiri is the only Indian to have figured in a Presidents Cup team having played in both 2015 and 2017.
Putting focus on India and China, the PGA TOUR Commissioner Jay Monahan said, “If you look at what’s happening in the game right now internationally, you’ve got HaoTong Li inside the top-40 in the world from China, (and) Shubhankar Sharma from India who has played exceedingly well,”
Soon after the announcement of the captains, Shubhankar tweeted, “Two of the biggest icons of my golfing life @TigerWoods and @TheBig_Easy will be the central figures of @PresidentsCup 2019. Getting there can not be more rewarding. I am super excited and will do my best to be on the team, rest assured.”
Lahiri, too, tweeted, “So exciting to see two of the greatest legends of golf @TigerWoods @TheBig_Easy lead their @PresidentsCup teams in 2019. Still remember their epic battle into the dark. What a privilege it would be to make it to that team #whatdreamsaremadeof “
Shubhankar, who has been given a rare invite to the Masters at the Augusta National next month, took the world by storm as he won the Joburg Open and Malaysian Championships in succession.
He followed that up with a sizzling performance for the first three days in his maiden appearance on the PGA Tour and the WGC-Mexico, as he led a field that included 45 of the top 50 stars on world ranking.
He slipped on the final day, but still finished a creditable Tied-9th. A week later flying across the world, he led after 54 holes in the Hero Indian Open but ended seventh on the final day. He is now ranked No, 64 in the world, while Lahiri, who has a full PGA Tour card, is 80th.
Monahan added, “We don’t know who is going to come forward between now and then, but it’s likely that stars from new countries are going to come forward with Ernie Els and Tiger Woods leading their respective teams. So I think it’s just going to take the game deeper and wider than it’s ever been.”
India has at least four other players Gaganjeet Bhullar (156), Shiv Kapur (200), Ajeetesh Sandhu (206) and SSP Chawrasia (255) in and around Top-200, who could make a bid for a spot over the next 18 months.
A change in criteria for qualification will also mean there will now be eight automatic berths and four picks for each captain.
As for the US team, Woods’ recent return to form even suggests that he could even qualify as a player and could be a playing captain.