During the week hours of Monday morning, a restless Shiv Kapur woke up unable to bear the tension anymore. And why won’t he? After all, the toast of Indian golf Shubhankar Sharma was set to tee off on the final day of the World Golf Championship as the leader.
“I mean I woke up at 4am yesterday morning. I didn’t sleep well, may be I was thinking of Shubhankar in my sleep. I put on the TV and saw Justin Thomas take the second shot, my heart sort of sank a little,” seasoned pro Shiv’s emotional description made it clear what that performance meant for India’s golfing community.
Kapur on Tuesday joined the chorus in showering praise on young Shubhankar Sharma, describing him as an “exceptional talent” with maturity beyond his age. Sharma, who had clinched the Jo’burg Open in December and captured the Maybank Championship last month, dished out a gutsy performance at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship last week.
The 21-year-old led in the second and third rounds by two shots before a 74 in the final round saw him finish at a creditable tied ninth at the Mexico City. “He is an exceptional talent,” said Kapur, who clinched three Asian Tour titles last season.
“I was discussing with Jeev (Milkha Singh) the way he has handled himself as a 21-year-old, even when things didn’t go his way. In general, his maturity is way beyond his age and his game is very well rounded and I think he has any weakness in his game.”
Kapur said Sharma is fearless and possess a flawless game. “He is very good off the tee and has a fantastic short game and seems to have the temperament to back it up. He is fearless, he is not scared to win,” he said.
“The way he won in Malaysia, I was playing a couple of groups behind and he shoot 62, that would go down as one of the greatest final round in history because people won’t appreciate the tough conditions and pin position that day.
The ultimate compliment for Shubhankar was saved for the end. “When I hang up my boots, I would be sitting and watching him as a spectator. He is very level-headed and someone to watch out for in the next few years.”
‘Will play attacking golf at 2018 Indian Open’
Kapur reckons it would be tough for any Indian golfer to outclass their international counterparts and retain the 2018 Hero Indian Open title at the tricky DLF Golf course. Two-time defending champion SSP Chawrasia clinched the trophy at two separate courses — the Delhi Golf Course and DLF golf course. Anirban Lahiri had also won the title in 2015.
“It is great to see, Indians going as favourites but there are a bunch of strong International players, so it will be a very very tough challenge for India to sort of retain the trophy,” said Kapur, who clinched Yeangder Heritage, Panasonic Open and the Royals Cup within eight months last year.
The field of the 54th edition of Indian Open will feature two Ryder Cup captains of Europe, Darren Clarke – the 2011 Open winner and winner of two other WGC events, and Thomas Bjorn – winner of 21 titles and a former Top-10 world ranked player.
Emiliano Grillo of Argentina, who is a PGA Tour winner and member of the 2017 Presidents Cup team, Britain’s Andrew Johnston, one of the most popular players around the world, past champion Thongchai Jaidee and Ryder Cup player, Chris Wood, who won the 2016 BMW PGA Championships, are also in the field.
Considering that Chawrasia had dominated both the DGC and DLF golf courses with back to back wins, Kapur was asked how he would approach the week as he too tamed the Delhi course last year en route to the Panasonic Open.
“Whatever he (Chawrasia) did, it clearly works. He blew the field away last year and that is something to ponder about. But I will play more attacking golf this year than last year because since it is a tough course, we tend to play more defensive,” he said.
“I said this at the Panasonic Open, I will play it like I play like a Sunday round, take on and play lot more drivers. I think if I come out with attack, I might make some bogeys but I will end up making few birdies as well. But if I am defensive and have a bunch of pars and a big number might hit you.
“But obviously, SSP have got the formula down at old DLF, new DLF, DGC, so you know I can learn a lot from him.”
Talking about the DLF course, where golfers seemed to struggle last season even as Chawrasia strolled to a seven-shot lead, Kapur said: “I think we are making it into a mental beast. It is a tough golf course and with the sort of wind we have it would a tough test but I don’t think it is an unfair test. Some of the changes that has been made would make decision making little easier.
“I don’t think length of a goal course necessarily makes it harder, it is a misconceived notion. I think last year it played harder and this year it would have better scores but we have to see how it all pans out.”
Kapur skipped the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters after having some back issues and the Indian golfer said it was a good decision as it also gave him time to prepare for the Indian Open this week.
“I am feeling much better, I had a lot of physio last few weeks. My first week back after Perth, I didn’t touch the golf club at all. I feel 100 per cent fit now. It was a big decision to take a week off in Qatar as I could have done more damage and it gave me more time to prepare for this week,” he said.
“2018 has been pretty good so far, the first few events this year, I put myself in contention but I didn’t get the job done in the weekend. But it was nice to see that I was carrying on my momentum after coming from three wins last season,” said Kapur.
“It is my 10th year in Indian Open and I would repeat once again that it is the most important event outside the majors. Winning this National Open is the highlight of anyone’s career, winning the Panasonic Open in India was getting a monkey off my back. It would be nice not to have this pressure of not winning for a long time.”
Asked about his expectations this year, Kapur said: “Sometimes it is important to keep expectations in check, you can’t match one season with another in number of win.
“My goal this year is to be a good golfer then last year, if it means 4 wins or 5 wins or even if no wins, but I feel I am improving my part of game and contending that’s where my goal would be because three wins in a season is little too high and if I can replicate that I would be happy but if I can’t I don’t think I will be disappointed.”
The Hero Indian Open begins on Thursday.