Bogey! When Phil Mickelson mistook Shubhankar Sharma for a ‘mediaman’ | other sports | Hindustan Times
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Bogey! When Phil Mickelson mistook Shubhankar Sharma for a ‘mediaman’

Phil Mickelson dismissed Shubhankar Sharma mistaking the Indian as a member of the media on Saturday as the 21-year-old Mexico WGC leader and walked up to have a chat with golf legend.

other sports Updated: Mar 04, 2018 18:17 IST
V Krishnaswamy
Shubhankar Sharma plays his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the WGC - Mexico Championship golf tournament.
Shubhankar Sharma plays his shot from the sixth tee during the third round of the WGC - Mexico Championship golf tournament.(USA TODAY Sports)

On Saturday, Shubhankar Sharma spotted Hall of Famer, Phil Mickelson at the putting green at the WGC-Mexico at the Club de Golf Chapultepec. Shubhankar and his caddie for the week, former Indian pro, Gurbaaz Mann, approached Mickelson for a simple ‘Hi’. But the focused Mickelson, not recognising them, just waved them off.

Shubhankar said, “To be honest, me and my caddie Baaz, we both went up to him. He thought we were media and he said, “Not right now, after the round.” Then he just realized and said, “So sorry, I thought you were media,” and he said Hi, I said Hi. Then he made a few putts and he came back to me and said, ‘Have a good day.’ It was nice.”

Shubhankar added, “(it) just made my day.” Gurbaaz turned that into a positive, telling Sharma that’s how focused the five-time Major champion Mickelson was. Sharma loved it.

Shubhankar, who was born five years after Mickelson turned pro, has been enjoying himself in the company of super stars. He said, “For me, it’s actually almost like watching TV. I was telling to Baaz, who’s on my bag there, watching all of these guys on the range, it just seems like there’s a TV in front of me and I’m watching them through the TV,” the 21-year-old said.

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That was Saturday morning. On Sunday, Shubhankar, with a two-shot lead, will walk out with the same Mickelson for the final round of the WGC-Mexico Championships. Shubhankar is 13-under to Mickelson’s 11-under.

Mickelson could perhaps be excused for not recognising Shubhankar, who has never played in the United States. Despite two European Tour victories already this season — in South Africa and Malaysia — it is fair to say a Shubhankar victory would reverberate around the golf world. He is one great round from becoming the youngest winner of a World Golf Championships (WGC) event, as well as the first to win in his first WGC start.

However, unknown to many, probably Mickelson, too, is the amazing connection to Indian golf the 47-year-old American has.

In 2005, when Arjun Atwal was finding his feet on the PGA Tour the Indian ace shot 64 in the final round of the weather-hit BellSouth Classic at TPC at Sugarloaf in Duluth, Georgia. That put him in a five-man play-off which included the then reigning Masters champion, Mickelson, Rich Beem, the 2002 PGA Champion, two-time Masters winner, Jose Maria Olazabal and Brandt Jobe. Atwal exited in the first play-off hole, but Mickelson went on to win the title at the US $ 5 million event.

Fast forward to 2008 and Singapore.

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An Indian rookie pro was anxiously waiting as the first reserve for the region’s biggest event, the Singapore Open.

Sitting by the phone in his hotel room was a 20-year-old Anirban Lahiri, in his first year on the Asian Tour. Late in the evening news filtered in that Ian Poulter had pulled out and Lahiri was in.

Guess, who he was going to play with? Right, Mickelson.

Sometime back, Lahiri recalled, “It was my first year on the Asian Tour and I had had a terrible season. I was first reserve on Monday and I got in on Wednesday evening. I was really thrilled to be playing in the tournament, then I was told that I was playing with Phil (Mickelson).

“That was even more special because I was 20 years old and taking baby steps in professional golf. It was a very good experience. I learnt a lot from it. I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so excited.

“I look back very fondly at the experience – it’s good to have that as a memory. (Now) I’ve played with a lot of good players such as Phil Mickelson and you learn how they handle themselves.”

Onto 2009 and Doral.

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Jeev Milkha Singh coming off the best season of his career in 2008, was at the WGC, then called WGC-CA and it used to be held at Doral. Jeev was one of the four co-leader at the end of Day 1 alongside Retief Goosen, Prayad Marksaeng and one more player. Yes, it was Mickelson.

On the second day Mickelson went into sole lead, while Jeev dropped to T-8th. Rory McIlroy was among those Tied-3rd and Dustin Johnson was Tied-5th. On the third day, Jeev climbed back to T-3rd, but four behind Mickelson, who shared the lead with Nick Watney. On the final day, Mickelson held off Watney by one shot, as Jeev finished fourth, which to-date is the best finish by an Indian at a WGC event.

So, three of India’s finest players ever – Atwal, Jeev and Anirban have a ‘Mickelson connection’ and now it is Shubhankar’s turn.

NOTE | The writer is a veteran golf journalist.