Masters win will prove I was worthy of invite: Shubhankar Sharma
There is a 330-yard driveway, flanked by 60 lush and towering magnolia trees, that is open only to a select high and mighties of the society as they enter the Augusta National Golf Club – one of the most revered and exclusive golf clubs in the world.
Come the second week of April, Magnolia Lane is opened up to the 80 odd participants of the Masters – the first major of the season. Playing Augusta National is on the bucket list of every golfer in the world, but securing an invite to play the Masters is a privilege only for the elite in professional golf.
An invite is a clear indication of his status in the Royal & Ancient sport. If a golfer is driving down the Magnolia Lane in the second week of April, it has a great significance in his career – it means he has arrived in his chosen field.
However, as India’s Shubhankar Sharma – quite remarkably – earned that right at a very young age of 21, he insists this is just the beginning of his journey.
“I am humbled by the fact that the Masters Committee felt I am good enough to be handed a special invitation. Playing the Masters would be the biggest moment of my career so far, it is my first major after all, but I know there are many more to come in the future,” says Sharma, currently leading the Order of Merit on both the European and Asian Tours.
“It’s been a kind of whirlwind for me these last few months. Things have changed so much after the two wins I have had on the European Tour. The Masters invite is the biggest thing that has happened to me, but I have a lot to prove.
“The short-term goal is that I want to prove to the tournament that I was worthy of the invitation. The long-term goal is to make sure I am back here year after year on my own.
“And the best way to do that is to win the Green Jacket. Can I do it this year? I believe so. I believe I belong at this stage. I believe I can contend in majors and win.”
There is a lot of interest surrounding Sharma here at Augusta, even though there are so many astounding storylines going into the tournament – headlined, of course, by the return to near-vintage form by Tiger Woods.
Among the media clamour for him – he appeared on NBC Golf’s special Masters coverage on Monday apart from several other television channels – two announcements indicate the growing stature of Sharma in world golf.
At the start of this week, Nike Golf have signed him up as one of their Elite athletes in a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal – thus pitchforking him in the same bracket as Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Also, Wasserman, one of the leading golf management companies in the US that looks after the interests of players like Rickie Fowler, have signed up to look after his commercial interests.
“These things are bound to happen if you are playing well. I look at it as an honour and also as a responsibility,” says Sharma.
“I want to be a good ambassador for whoever I am representing. But what is paramount for me, and I know each of my sponsors would also think on similar lines, is that I perform well on the golf course. I will use all of this as motivation to become a better player.”