Meet golfer Shubhankar Sharma, the 21 year old who is changing the fortunes of Indian golf on the world scene. On his PGA Tour debut, through this weekend Sharma made history being the first Indian to lead through the tournament at the WGC-Mexico Championship ahead of legends like Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia and rubbing shoulders with the top rankers. He has won twice on the European Tour since December. He leads the Race to Dubai rankings with earnings close to 750,000 euros (just over INR 6 crore approximately). Sharma, who is on a high playing with champions says he has mostly watched on television. “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.”
He turned pro at 16, giving himself an early chance. But also plenty of scrutiny of fellow amateurs, mature pros and coaches. The very next year in 2014 he won his first tournament and shut his critics up. Sharma picked two important tournaments namely Maybank Championship and Joburg Open in 2018. He’s already punched his ticket to The Open, the 147th Open at Carnoustie, United Kingdom.
Sharma comes from a simple family where values are key to survival. His mom is the backbone and she leads the family to discipline from the front. His sister is a writer in the making. Sharma grew up in different parts of the country, thanks to his military dad, who has since quit the army to spend time on his son’s golf. Only one in his family to pick golf as a sport, Sharma started at seven years.
But like many things, for Sharma, who loves soccer and basketball, golf didn’t happen as per plan. It’s a story with a deeper connection. Anirban Lahiri’s father, a doctor in the army was the gynaecologist in the room when Sharma’s sister was born. In a casual conversation the two army officers – Lahiri’s dad and Sharma’s father got talking about golf and Anirban’s involvement in it. Colonel Sharma found this conversation inspirational and thought Shubhankar needed to explore golf. Rest, as they say is history.
“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 U.S. Open. It went on until 6:00 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.” So when Sharma saw Mickelson in person at the WGC this weekend, he excitedly went up to meet him but the Hall of Famer thought he was media and dismissed him. “Then he just realised (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 would not ever forget Sharma now that he was in the final round playing in the same threesome.
Sharma game is an outcome of intense hardwork, a structured routine but also a mental conviction that he was made for bigger things. “He is very headstrong. He has always had a plan and knows when he is playing well,” says his buddy Khalin Joshi, both of who have been sharing a room on tour for the last two and a half years. “When he won in South Africa, he wasn’t jumping with excitement. The whole week he was calm and he was like that in victory too.”
Sharma is poised in loss too but never gives up without a fight. “On one of the Asian Development Tour events, he was in contention to win but lost in a playoff to another young golfer Chikkarangappa. At 16 he was remarkable in his game, his winning attitude, and I can never forget that about him,” remembers HR Srinivasan of Take Solutions, a company that has supported Sharma’s game over the last few years.
Sharma’s biggest mentor is his father. He and his dad discuss a lot about his game. Along with him, in Mexico Sharma also has his technical instructor Gurbaaz Mann, who is caddying for him. He doesn’t change his clubs too frequently and has been using most of this set for the last three years. “A lot of equipment companies have been offering him a lot of money but he isn’t really looking for those sponsorships,” say people close to him. These clubs are bringing in the wins after all. Golf is about belief. Joshi says he is a guy who has trust in him. “He knows he is a world beater.”
Jesse Grewal who has trained many youngsters like Gaganjeet Bhullar, Ajeetesh Sandhu and even Shubhankar Sharma, says “he does go out to play out to have fun. He is not overawed by good players. He has a ‘if they can, so can I’ attitude.” Sharma arrived at Jesse’s Chandigarh based academy when he was nine.
“He could always get the job done. Playing ability he had figured was about focus, and he wasn’t averse to tinkering his game.”
Sharma, a vegetarian by choice loves to have a good meal. He prefers a laid back evening with friends. He is famous for his love for hip hop and rap and the tour depends on him for his playlist. He and Joshi binge watch comedy. “We could even watch old Hindi films many times over. Dil Chahta Hai is a favourite.” Outside of golf life, Sharma is a big follower of NBA and occasionally plays soccer.
Rise of players like Sharma bring hope to golf. That those with simple beginnings and resources can dream of making it big this game. Contrary to the elite tag the sport has in India, our best players – Anirban Lahiri, SSP Chawrasia, Shubham Jaglan, Aditi Ashok – prove being great at something doesn’t need a silver spoon.