As a teenager, Shubhankar Sharma spent hours watching his golfing heroes on television. After making history this weekend, becoming the first Indian to stream ahead of legends like Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia at the WGC-Mexico Championship, it still feels like telly to him.
“For me, it’s actually almost like watching TV… 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. It’s great just to see the way some of the guys like Dustin strike the ball. I think it just pushes guys like me to play even better,” Sharma said.
This weekend was Sharma’s PGA Tour debut. So far, he has won twice on the European Tour since December, and he leads the Race to Dubai rankings with earnings close to €750,000 (Rs6 crore approximately).
When he turned pro at 16, many thought it was teenage blood in a hurry.
The very next year in 2014 he won his first tournament and shut his critics up. Now 21, Sharma has put his career on course with two massive wins—the Maybank Championship and the Joburg Open—in 2018.
He’s already punched his ticket to The Open, one of the four Majors in golf to be played in the UK. A victory at the WGC Championship would make Sharma the first debutant to win on the PGA Tour in about three decades.
Sharma, born into a simple and orthodox family, grew up in different parts of the country, thanks to his dad, who has since quit his army job to spend time with his son. At home, his mother kept the discipline that helped Sharma focus. The only one in his family to pick golf as a sport, Sharma started at the age of seven.
Like many Indian pros, he spent hours and days replaying the games of champions on DVDs and stayed up early into the morning watching live tournaments. Telly was big in his life.
“I remember all the majors pretty much by heart and pretty much all the shots, and I remember Phil winning in 2013 and the shot on the 13th was just fabulous. The best I think was when Rory won the US Open. It went on until 6 in the morning back home. I remember I was so inspired that I didn’t sleep, I just went straight to the range and hit balls for two hours,” said Sharma.
So when he saw Mickelson in person at the WGC this weekend, he excitedly went up to meet him but the Hall of Famer thought he was a journalist and dismissed him. “Then he just realized (and said) ‘So sorry, I thought you were media.’ He said ‘hi’. I said ‘hi’. And then he made a few putts and then he came back to me and said, ‘Have a good day.’ It was nice.”
Mickelson’s not likely to forget Sharma in a hurry, now that he’s played in the same threesome in the final round.
The rise of players like Sharma brings hope to golf. That those with simple beginnings can dream of making it big. Contrary to the elite tag the sport has in India, our best players—Anirban Lahiri, S.S.P. Chawrasia, Shubham Jaglan, Aditi Ashok—prove that being great at something doesn’t need a silver spoon.
The writer is founder, GolfingIndian.com.