Introduction: Shubhankar Sharma’s recent superb run of form on the European Tour which saw his earnings climb to over US$430,000 in a few weeks, has Indian golf fans around the world excited !! Shubhankar’s ball striking is considered major champion material.
Recently at the BMW PGA Championship in London, Shubhankar enjoyed a loyal following of fans including the author of this guest article, Ashwani Mathur, himself a 4 handicapper at Wisley GC in London. Ashwani who in his own words was “born to play golf but is forced to work in the financial markets” followed Shubhankar for all 72 holes at Wentworth.
For you dear Readers, here is Ashwani’s personal account on Shubhankar in his very passionate words :
“Let’s hit a 2 iron from the bunker to the green and give ourselves the chance of an Eagle putt”, said Shubhankar to his caddy Lyle, at the 18th fairway bunker during the final round of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. Lyle had only this season got onto Shubhankar’s bag, so with some trepidation he responded – “Let’s just lay up Shubhi to a nice wedge yardage and make birdie the good old-fashioned way.”
Now here’s what that bunker shot demanded. It’s a fairly deep bunker with a notorious lip to negotiate. At about 80 yards or so, runs a creek. At 150-200 yards is a winding water hazard that runs all the way up to the green.
So here’s the shot.
You have to clear the bunker lip, then fly 215 yards over the water only to just make the green. Now examine the pin position. It is cut at the far left only 5 yards from the water. To say that this is an impossible shot to pull off during a friendly fourball amongst scratch golfers would be a fairly accurate assessment. In 15 years of being at Wentworth, I’ve rarely seen people make the green in two from the yellow tees even after they’ve flushed both their drive and approach. To even visualise such a shot from a deep fairway bunker (throw in the added fact that it’s on the 72 nd hole of the biggest event on the European Tour when you’re about to make the Top 10), is borderline insane.
Shubhankar told me about this 2-iron episode after he finished his round. Two days on and I am still contemplating what kind of a mindset this guy possesses with so much on the line to attempt a shot like that – Race to Dubai points, prize money, a Top 10 finish in the marquee event of the Tour and all kinds of things that normal people think of in their daily professional lives. This was a day in the office for him after all. Another day where you just do your job. Do any of us make calls like this when our livelihood depends on them?
This can only be indicative of one thing: the mindset of a Champion. One who is in a permanent quest for glory and is prepared to put everything on the line for it. It’s a unique gift. Very few have it. Shubhankar does. And it’s not just in his golf. It’s in every other part of his life too.
As it turned out, better sense prevailed. Lyle made the right call. “Shubhi” (As Lyle calls him and it sounds kind of cool in an English accent – “Shoebhee” to be precise) hit it to 6 feet with his wedge approach and made a tricky slider putt on a hole that was cut on a spine. Signed off with a 66 in front of a magnificent crowd – one fit for a Major with the loudest applause coming from our little corner next to the green – the fair few crazy Indian supporters who he had been entertaining with his supreme ball striking over the past four days.
We all felt a tremendous sense of pride to see this Indian Youth icon compete at the highest level in a ridiculously competitive sport and present such a terrific account of himself. I saw the dominantly English crowd following him grow larger every day as word begun to spread about this amazing Indian guy.
“This guy hits it pure every time and his strike is different to the others in his group”, said a guy standing next to me on a tee box. “He looks so calm all the time”, said another. I told both these two new fans of his that they were spot on. I know because I saw it up close over the past month.
Just a couple of weeks ago Shubhankar had played with two of my buddies and I at Queenwood – a fabulous course in Surrey, outside London. On the drive up to the club, I said to him – “Aaj hamein golf dikha de yaar” (translated as show us some golf today). His response was minimalist and something that only a purist could say – “Chalo sir, try karte hain aaj” (translated as I will try today).
Two deeply endearing things in that stoic comment. First, just the casual yet deeply self-motivating cry to the inner sportsman inside him to give it his best today. And second, his wonderful use of the word “Sir”. Despite my repeated requests of addressing me as just “Ash”, he refuses to call me anything but “Sir”.
I know where he gets this from – his military background. His father, Colonel Mohan Sharma, who I have gotten to know well over the past few years, has instilled in him the deepest sense of respect for everyone. It’s a tremendous part of our Indian culture and I absolutely love it – not for any other reason but that it’s been a deeply ingrained part of how I was brought up too with my Dad being in the Gorkhas & Punjab regiments.
You respect your seniors at all times. Period. An Army background is worth its weight in Gold and Shubhankar is a real credit to his parents with the way he conducts himself. He’s a real deal Indian Youth icon that most of India hasn’t found out about yet.
That day at Queenwood, my buddies Anshu Jain, Madhav Dhar (both also Delhi Golf Club members) and I were treated to a masterclass. Shubhi shot 64 without making a putt all day. It could have easily been a 59. All three of us were blown away. There was no swag and no bravado. Steeped in humility, he just lets his clubs do all the talking. When putts don’t drop, he just moves on to create the next opportunity. And the next. His resolve is tremendous. Golf can grind you down. We all know the feeling. But here is a guy who knows that he’s a birdie machine. I have never seen such self-belief. Inspiring…is a word that comes to mind.
It would not surprise me if he shot 59 on Tour literally anytime now.
Unfortunately for him, this pattern was to repeat at the BMW PGA. He shot 15 under over four days without making a putt. I followed him closely and I can recount at least 12 birdie putts that refused to go in from inside 10 feet. A low handicapper would expect to make a third of them. A pro would make 50%. That’s the tournament right there for you. He had it in his grasp to win it.
I felt bad for his misses. “No problem Sir. Next year we will try and do better”, he said to me with a smile on Sunday evening, showing neither disappointment nor regret.
I know he will do better. Indian golf has a superstar in the making. The golfing fraternity should rally behind him and my gut instinct tells me that he will contend at the Majors next. The BMW PGA Elite field is where he belonged. He displayed that talent and hunger in abundance.
His ball striking is as good as the best on the Tour. All he needs now is for those elusive putts to drop and we will see magic. I’m making the call today. Shubhankar will fly the Indian golf flag globally and do us all proud in time to come.
He’s what I call “The Next Level”. And I know it will never get to his head. He has the mind of a champion grounded in an exemplary set of values. All of us Indians can take a leaf out of that book.
As for me, I’m just thrilled to have a ringside ticket on his ride.
Photo – Olympics.com