Shubhankar Sharma focuses on European Tour, top-50 ranking
Choosing the PGTI Players Championship over the World Super 6 Perth on the European Tour is a well thought out move by Shubhankar Sharma. The world No 119 tees off at the WGC-Mexico Championship next week and will be under spotlight, considering that he led into the final round of his first PGA Tour event last year. In that respect, Shubhankar this week has allowed himself good space and time to test his game and some critical gear at the Classic Golf and Country Club here in the comfort of a place he calls home.
In a cheerful mood after the second round on Wednesday that placed him well in contention, Shubhankar spoke at length on a range of issues.
Given the environment at home (his mother is deeply religious), how has belief shaped you?
Religion happened before golf and has been an indispensable part of the family. I was nine when I started playing but much before that, entering the prayer room before leaving for school and again spending time in the evening was a routine (for sister Vandini and he). Sitting in front of God has a calming effect, and I appreciate the virtues more as a sportsman. Success requires a lot of effort but even than results are not guaranteed. Belief also teaches patience, which is criticial in our sphere. Even on tour, I carry a small temple. If the hotel room is big enough, it is placed in a prominent spot else it stays in the luggage but I never step out without remembering the values I grew up with.
Last season, twice you had an opportunity to secure your card on the PGA Tour but could not do so, any regrets?
I would have liked to win the WGC-Mexico Championship (T9) and CIMB Classic (T10) but such occasions will arise and there are lessons to be learnt. The next time I’m in such a situation, I’ll be better prepared. I tried too hard (to win) in Mexico, given it was the biggest stage for me at that point, and when that’s the case things often don’t go your way. The disappointment lingered for a day but faith helped me get over it. In golf, there is always a next week, and that’s the way I’ve conditioned myself.
Often, newcomers grapple with acceptance on the PGA Tour. Did you face a problem?
None, on the contrary I was welcomed with open arms. Playing the leadergroup with Phil Mickelson on the final day in Mexico was an eye opener as the crowd was equally appreciative of our shots. Also, my case was different as I came in on the back of two big wins so curiosity played a part as did social media.
Has success affected you?
Nothing has changed save for the deal with Nike which now allows me to wear better clothes. Whenever, I am home (which is rare these days), I hang out with the same friends (Khalin Joshi is still his roomie when they are together for an Asian Tour event) and before coming to town (Gurgaon), I make it a point to inform friends on the PGTI and outside golf.
Your to-do list for 2019?
To win again (after last year’s Joburg Open and Maybank Championship) as the focus this year will be on the European Tour and of course making the International team (under Ernie Els) for the Presidents Cup (in December at Melbourne). A win will serve that purpose and breaking into the top-50 will make it easier for playing the Majors (Currently, he is confirmed for The Open only).
Has that memorable meeting with Els at the Delhi Golf Club in 2008 whetted the desire to make the team?
Undoubtedly, besides this edition is unique with Ernie and Tiger Woods at the helm (of the US team). Like the miniature temple, the autographed business card by Ernie from that meeting is treasured, but getting to know him on tour and playing practice rounds at The Open and Korea has added to the respect. For his stature, the humility and ability to interact and sharing his expertise with youngsters is admirable.
During off-season did you address the reasons for the dip in form after the phenomenal start to 2018?
Last year was unique in terms of how it panned out. Too much happened in a short span and perhaps the scheduling could have been better. I played 33 weeks, including 10 weeks out of 12 towards the close of the year. The long flights criss-crossing continents took a toll on the body. Some issues cropped up with the swing as well but hopefully that’s been addressed during the off-season (with coach Jesse Grewal). The results in 2019 haven’t been up to expectations (two missed cut out of three) but I expect it to get better.
What were the factors that led you to be here this week?
The world ranking points to PGTI clinched it but on a personal note, this week is a small attempt to give back to the tour that made me. My presence has inspired a lot of youngsters keen to make bigger tours, and the warmth has been overwhelming. Turning out this week is also a token of appreciation for the support I received from this course for almost three years early on.