30 December 2018: The past year has witnessed an enormous spike in interest in the game of golf, especially in India. Indian golf scaled new peaks and revisited some known summits, with much of the oxygen for the climb provided by Shubhankar Sharma. There have been stellar performances too by Gaganjeet Bhullar, S Chikkarangappa, Rahil Gangjee and Khalin Joshi.
Shubhankar started his ascent with a memorable triumph in the Joburg Open, a large field tournament that typically features more than 200 golfers. It is a co-sanctioned event on the Sunshine Tour and European Tour, opening new vistas for the Indian.
The 22-year-old followed through by scoring a come from behind victory at the Maybank Championship in February. He shot a brilliant 10-under 62 on Sunday to showcase his credentials to the world. And they stood up and took notice.
Traveling cross continent to play in the WGC Mexico Championship, his debut in a WGC event, Shubhankar entered Sunday with the lead to his name. Playing alongside Phil Mickelson, who barely even recognised his fellow golfer, the Indian finished in T-9 to underline his growing aspirations.
The Masters extended him a special invite, a rare privilege accorded only to golfers that the committee believes to belong at the high table of American golf. Even though he missed the cut, it was a journey worth remembering for the young man.
Shubhankar went on to play all four majors and each of the WGC events on the calendar in 2018. It was a massive accomplishment in itself and the manner in which he made the cut at the Open, from a position of despair served to remind the world of his fine temperament.
The Arjuna Award was a fine reward for Shubhankar’s efforts in golf, since he turned professional in 2013 as a teenaged greenhorn. Coming on the heels of the recognition for Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia, it added a further layer of acknowledgment for golf in India this decade.
But the story was far from done. Shubhankar exhausted himself sore, playing 33 events during the past season. That helped him go to the top of the Asian Tour Order of Merit and stay there.
The Indonesian Open turned into a serenading party for Shubhankar with a full compliment of Indian golfers including Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Anirban Lahiri in attendance to celebrate the young man ending the year as the Asian Tour number one. He was the fifth Indian to accomplish the feat and youngest ever.
Just a few weeks earlier, Shubhankar had also sealed the Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year on the European Tour, playing in the season finale in Dubai. With Anirban already a steady presence on the PGA TOUR, Shubhankar could be next in line to find full expression of his talents on the American tour.