Exclusive - Lessons learnt to come in handy for Shubhankar Sharma
This week of the World Golf Championships — Mexico Championship is critical for Shubhankar Sharma, as it is for defending champion Phil Mickelson. For ‘Lefty’, as Mickelson is known, it will be another chance to prove his unmatched consistency — one that has kept him in the world’s top 50 for 25 consecutive years. For Shubhankar, it is about setting things right, and the 22-year-old hopes Mickelson, given the time they spent in the leader group last year, will be at hand to view his attempt to finish better than T9 after leading for two rounds.
Before the final round, Shubhankar, perhaps a tad wide-eyed, had walked up to introduce himself to Mickelson on the practice green. Mistaking him for a reporter, Mickelson shooed him away only to express regret. Shubhankar now laughs it off, as does Mickelson after watching Shubhankar keep pace with him till the 12th hole.
“I was in the run till then but poor driver shots and putting let me down,” said Shubhankar. The next six holes yielded four bogeys, par and a birdie, and that for Shubhankar was a result of trying too hard in his first PGA Tour event. “Short on sleep, putts lipping out, I wanted to win badly, and often when that’s the case, things don’t fall in place.”
It hurt but the way Shubhankar has conditioned himself helped him emerge out of it quickly. “Hard work doesn’t always guarantee results and such situations will arise, but in golf there’s always a next time.” That occasion could be this week as he is better prepared for what is in store at Mexico City’s Club de Golf Chapultepec.
The outcome was not to his liking but there are moments from last year that are remembered with fondness. For instance, building a dedicated fan following and Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas coming up to introduce themselves at the practice range. The conversations were fruitful, but more importantly gave Shubhankar a sense of belonging.
That acceptance wasn’t an issue was proved by the birdie on the 16th. Though out of reckoning by then, the roar after making birdie on the 16th matched the level when Mickelson shot under par on that hole. “Since I was coming from the top (after winning the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship on the European Tour earlier on) made people take note and be appreciative,” said Shubhankar.
The angst of starting the final round two shots off the field to ending six shots behind Mickelson lurks somewhere, but what Shubhankar chooses to remember is being sought out for autographs despite the finish, and the rare honour soon after when he was among the handful of players to be invited to the interview room for a solo session with reporters prior to The Masters.