Staying at resorts at the golf courses, daily checks for symptoms and temperature, filling a questionnaire daily apart from undergoing an antigen test before teeing off, a mobile PCR rapid test for Covid-19 on arrival at the venue, self-driving a rental car for almost five weeks.
These are parts of the protocol Indian golfer Shubhankar Sharma will have to adhere to during his 32-day stay in the United Kingdom for five European Tour events. Sharma, accompanied by long-time mentor Gurbaaz Mann, arrived in Birmingham on Tuesday morning and will be teeing off in the Hero Open at the Forest of Arden Marriott Hotel and Country Club on Thursday.
“I had already decided to play on the European Tour a month ago and it was always the plan that whenever competition resumes and I am able to fly to Europe, I will go. So, I was mentally prepared to play,” the 24-year-old Chandigarh pro said.
“Once it was decided, the travel part was not a big concern as we understood the precautions like wearing face shields and PPE kits on the Air India flight and submitting our test reports after the arrival here. I also packed 5-6 masks and extra sanitiser bottles for the trip. We have seen sport resuming across the world in bio- bubbles and once we landed here, all focus has been on playing some good golf,” shared Sharma ahead of the one million Euro prize money event.
Earlier this month, the European Tour resumed golf action with the British Masters in Newcastle, England. The event had only one top-50 player – Lee Westwood – in the 130-strong field, and saw less than 500 people on the course but no spectators. The European Tour’s tournament bio-bubble is developed by its chief medical officer Andrew Murray and the medical advisory board includes virologists and senior health officials from FIFA, World Rugby and ATP.
According to the protocol, players, caddies, hotel staff and media undergo an at-home Sure-Track test before every tournament and those testing negative have an on-site rapid testing phase at the venue. Players are also required to submit daily symptom questionnaires and temperature readings. All the six tournaments in the UK Swing are taking place at golf courses located within 300 miles of each other.
“We were required to submit our negative test reports upon arrival at Heathrow and there will also be a test before we tee off on Thursday. All the venues have on- course stay and food arrangements, and each person is required to travel, work, relax and dine with one other person only – which is Gurbaaz Mann in my case. During practice, each golfer was on his own and we all understand this is being done for our safety. The only thing left to decide is who between us two will drive the rental car first at the end of the tournament (laughs),” adds Sharma.
A dip in form
Sharma’s recent results have not been kind to him and the two-time winner on the European Tour has slipped to a current world ranking of 316. He had only two top-10 finishes since March 2019 — tied-seventh finishes at Italian Masters in October and Turkish Open in November. With the Tokyo Olympics getting postponed, Sharma who is currently behind compatriots Rashid Khan, Udayan Mane, and Shiv Kapur in world rankings, desperately wants to be among the top two from the country to qualify for the Games.
He will head to Hertfordshire after this week followed by two weeks at Newport, Wales and another at Sutton before returning to India. “I didn’t get the best of starts last year and my world ranking has gone down. This extra one year means I am still in the mix and can start afresh. Even though Olympics are still far away, playing in it remains a dream for every athlete. When practice resumed at the Chandigarh Golf Club and CGA range in May, it gave me time to work on my swing. While I have gone back to my old putter, I have got new wedges and they have got good bounce which will help me in Europe,” adds Sharma.
Mann, who also modifies Sharma’s equipment at the CGA range in Chandigarh, was busy making some changes to Sharma’s reserve equipment in the last three months. He will also do the caddie’s job, something he did for Sharma at WGC Mexico in 2018, where Sharma finished tied ninth.
“In the last three months, we got some clear idea about the changes need in the technique and equipment. We had reserve equipment and decided to make the changes accordingly. Shubhankar’s putter needed a big overhaul and we did some changes with the driver as well,” said Mann.
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