Links golf like acquired taste, says Shubhankar Sharma

Shubhankar Sharma can reel off the challenges that lurk at the Augusta National in a flash, but even for the young loyalist, the grandeur of The Open is unmatched and an experience that cannot be captured in words.
A file photo of golfer Shubhankar Sharma.(AFP)
A file photo of golfer Shubhankar Sharma.(AFP)
Updated on Jul 16, 2019 08:04 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | By Robin Bose

His form hasn’t been what it should be, but that’s golf for Shubhankar Sharma.

“You are never settled in this sport. When you are contending week after week, the endeavour is to stay there (through practice). When the going’s not good, it’s more hard work to get back to the zone.”

The concern of posting just one top-10 on the European Tour this season will stay till the minor tweaks in the swing bear fruit, but for this week of The Open Championship, Shubhankar will let nothing spoil the thrill of playing golf’s oldest Major for the second year running.

The setting has shifted to Portrush in Northern Ireland, but the roar from the grandstand on the 18th green of Carnoustie (Scotland) still resonates.

“We were staying at stone’s throw away from the golf course and every time someone made birdie, the cheering reached us and set the heart racing,” said Shubhankar.

Securing an invite to The Masters is one of the highlights of his short yet eventful professional career. He can reel off the challenges that lurk at the Augusta National in a flash, but even for the young loyalist, the grandeur of The Open is unmatched and an experience that cannot be captured in words.

As the week goes by, Shubhankar hopes to pick up many more tales to share later on, but it is the one from last year that is spoken of with some pride.

Three shots off the cut-line after the front nine on Day 2 at Carnoustie, the prospect of ushering in his 22nd birthday away from the course the next day looked a distinct possibility. A flurry of birdies on the back nine lifted his stock and a final flourish on the 18th saw him creep in.

Making the weekend rounds at the final gasp seems to have become a feature and was on view again at last week’s Scottish Open.

Tied 34 is his best finish since the Hero Indian Open in March and an affirmation of the tactic to play on links courses leading to The Open. The results have been mixed, but the experience invaluable.

Shubhankar missed cut at the Andalucia Masters followed by the Irish Open, and there are no excuses.

“The Irish Open wasn’t a bad week, but I did not hit too many fairways, and when that’s the case you are bound to struggle. Playing Valderrama (Andalucia Masters) made me realise that there are so many aspects to links golf. Frankly, it was a tough week. Links golf is like acquired taste as we don’t play much on such courses in India,” he said.

On his first visit to Portrush, which first hosted The Open in 1951, Shubhankar’s idea of the layout is fuzzy and based on images from TV.

“It is a long course and with the wind blowing, it plays tougher, especially some of the par 3s.”

Getting to the venue on Sunday has helped as have the tips from some local golfers.

He is hopeful of posting four solid rounds and make it another memorable birthday on Sunday. Even otherwise, the week will be part of “a very important learning experience”. “I’m glad this phase (prolonged poor run) has happened at an early age. While it makes me aware of what it takes to be a professional, there is the realisation that there is no reason to get upset; there’s life outside golf.”

As he pushes harder to chase a passion, having father Colonel (retd) Mohan Sharma, and coach, Jesse Grewal, watch from outside the ropes is comforting. When the spirit is down after a bad round, getting back to the hotel and talking to father has helped. It isn’t always about golf; some light stuff is enough to get him ready for the next day.

There will be more of it this week and having Grewal around is being counted as a bonus. “It always helps to have a different pair of eyes watch you as it brings fresh perspective,” he said.

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