CHENNAI: When the PGTI Players Championship kicks off at the Classic Golf & Country Club in Nuh, Haryana, from Tuesday, the regulars will be in for a surprise. They will see the sight of Shubhankar Sharma, the reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, walking alongside them from hole to hole. The 22-year-old, who took the decision to play in the event because he had no overseas assignments this week, said he came back for some match practice ahead of tougher tests.
“I had no tournaments this week so I decided to come back and play here,” he told Express on Monday. “It also gives me some match practice.” That PGTI tournaments now offer world ranking points also pushed the 22-year-old to play in his first event in the domestic circuit since December 2017 (McLeod Russel Tour Championship).
Even if the World No 118 is only after ‘match practice’, this is an important tournament for him considering that his start to the season hasn’t been the greatest. And with the Mexico leg of the World Golf Championships — where he announced himself to the world last year by leading after three days before finishing tied ninth — coming up next week, this could be the tonic he seeks to kick-start the 2019 season. Even though he has only featured in three competitions this year (all European Tour events), he missed the cut in two and finished tied 29th in the other.
“The start hasn’t been great,” he said. “But then, this is a game of patience and all you need is one good week and the whole thing will start flowing again.” It’s something that the Arjuna awardee is not accustomed to. Even though he was a relative unknown as late as November 2017, the last 16 months has been a bit of a whirlwind for him. In 2018 alone, he did something that many Indian golfers would target to do over an entire career — playing all four Majors (including an invite from Augusta Masters), as many WGCs, topping Asian tour OoM and winning on the European Tour (Malaysia in February).
It was hectic, but he says 2018 taught him a lot. “I am more experienced than I was last year,” he said. Even if that’s an obvious thing to say, he didn’t mean it in the conventional sort of way. “When you travel 34 weeks, you tend to learn a lot about yourself... how you react to different situations and so on. There is obviously the chipping, putting, driving aspect but I did learn a lot about myself and my body as well.”
It’s probably why he hasn’t set a target for himself this year. He knows a fixed target doesn’t work for him. So he is more focussed on the technical aspects — mastering the swing, learning about courses worldwide and things like that. “To be honest, I haven’t really set a target for myself this year. I am more of a process-oriented person. I just want to continue on the things that I have been working on.”
After Nuh and Mexico — his voice understandably increases a couple of notches when he hears that word — he will be a constant feature on the European Tour at least for the first part of the year. In the interim, he hopes to get a few invites to play on the PGA Tour, including the Masters.