Augusta (Georgia): Shubhankar Sharma made no secret of his ambitions and dreams. Not too long back, as a kid—some reckon he is still one at 21—he used to set his alarm for the middle of the night to wake up, not to study for his school examinations the next day, but to the tee times of his heroes which included Tiger, Tiger, Tiger and sometimes Phil Mickelson and others.
On Monday, flying in from Houston, where he missed the cut the previous night, Shubhankar, accompanied by a huge group of family and friends, was all set for his first real “sighting" of the Augusta National Golf Club and the US Masters.
And then, Monday arrived. “We were driving down the Washington Road and then took a right turn towards the club and suddenly there it was… we were on the Magnolia Drive…" he said excitedly. Excitement for him does not mean an elaborate fist bump—just a big smile.
“It was everything and more than I what had visualized. The course suits my eye and sure it is more difficult to walk than it looks on TV. Frankly, we have all heard everything to hear about Augusta and Masters even before coming over. It was great to see it in real and play it, too," added Sharma.
Anything special, I persist? “I birdied the first in practice round," he said shyly. Birdie on the very first hole at the Augusta National? Wow.
His caddie Mitch Knox has been coming here for two decades. Mitch knew Daniel Chopra and also Arjun Atwal, who played the Masters in 2011, and is a great buddy of Tiger Woods. “Daniel and Arjun put me through to Mitch and we were on," says Sharma. “He knows the course so well. He has been here many years. It is great to have someone like him."
Knox is still poring over the yardage book he probably knows by heart. He says, “He was where he shouldn’t have been with the first shot, but still got down in three. That’s great." Knox will now ensure Sharma is in the right place next time.
Sharma is accompanied by his guiding force, father Col. M.L. Sharma, who gave up his job to do his other job of making his son a world-class golfer; a doting mother, Neena Sharma, who wants to make every meal special for her son, just as she does at home; charming sister, Vandini, six years younger, who loves the world of fiction and wants to be a writer. These is also coach Jesse Grewal and mentor Gurbaaz Mann, as well as friends.
Soon it will be time to tee off against 86 others. It includes Tiger Woods and today’s generation of superstars like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed, plus a few more like world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Mickelson, three-time winner here (Tiger has won four times), Henrik Stenson and others.
The “elders" have experienced the fear of the “Tiger “ lurking around and “pouncing on" the prey on Sunday. Others have just heard the stories, never experienced it.
Woods started his latest comeback from four surgeries at the Hero World Challenge in December. He has made steady progress. He was T23 at Farmers; missed the cut at Genesis; and then shifted gears—T12 at Honda Classic; T2 at Valspar and T5 at Palmer Invitational. Now he is circling his prey. His career at Masters: Four wins, seven top-3s, 11 top-5s in his 20 appearances, 18 as a pro.
Can he do it again? Thursday is when the story of Tiger 2.0 or 3.0 starts again. And there will Shubhankar Sharma 1.0.