Golfer Shubhankar Sharma's punishing schedule fuelled by prospective top-50 rank, Augusta Masters ticket
Shubhankar, who is almost guaranteed to become the Rookie of the Year on the European Tour following this week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, is playing his 31st tournament in the 46th week of the year.
Dubai: The most common refrain one hears about Shubhankar Sharma from golf fans these days is that he is playing too much golf.
The 22-year-old Indian ace, who is almost guaranteed to become the Rookie of the Year on the European Tour following this week’s season-ending DP World Tour Championship in Dubai, is playing his 31st tournament in the 46th week of the year. It will be his 36th tournament — and that does not include the fact that he also played a 36-hole US Open qualifier in between — in the last one year.
A week in golf usually involves a couple of practice or pro-am rounds and four rounds of competition. It also involves long hours on the driving range and the putting green. The only free day of the week, really, is Monday, and that too is used to travel from one city to another.
The Chandigarh lad is also in between a grueling stretch that will see him play nine consecutive weeks when he is done with the Hong Kong Open next week. He has now played every week since the Mercuries Taiwan Masters in the last week of September.
Going by the schedule that some of the top golfers in the world keep — an average of 25 tournaments a year and at the most three or four weeks in a row — Sharma’s number seems excessive.
Already, his body is showing signs of strain. He has been struggling a bit with tightness in his back and has had to employ a full-time physio to keep him nimble and efficient on the golf course.
Sharma also withdrew from the World Cup of Golf next week in Melbourne, where he was going to partner Anirban Lahiri and represent Team India. But instead of taking a week off, he has decided to play the Hong Kong Open.
So, let’s see if Sharma deserves the criticism, or should he be applauded for following such a back-breaking schedule.
First things first, golf is an individual sport. Any decision made by Sharma will only impact him and nobody else. The only week that mattered for someone else (Lahiri), or for the country, was the World Cup of Golf.
Sharma actually needs to be complimented for his decision to withdraw from the World Cup of Golf because one of his considerations was that he’d be a ‘tired’ partner and may not be able to contribute effectively to the team’s cause.
Apart from that, one needs to understand what is motivating Sharma to pursue such a schedule.
There are several objectives he is trying to attain. Currently ranked 124th in the world, his main goal for the remainder of the year is to try and improve to within the top-50 of the Official World Golf Ranking, and to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
The two tournaments he played in Taiwan at the start of this nine-week stretch were almost mandatory. They were both full-field Asian Tour events and he needed to play at least two such events to qualify from the Tour’s quota for the two big PGA Tour events that followed (CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur and the CJ Cup in Korea) and also to ensure that he secures the Order of Merit.
The two PGA Tour events, followed by the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai were three tournaments Sharma had to play because it gave him a headstart in the FedEx Cup points and eventually secure a full card in the USA at the end of the 2018-19 season. Playing on the PGA Tour is a dream for every professional golfer and there was no way he could have ignored those events.
Which then brings us to the next three tournaments — the Turkish Airlines Open, the Nedbank Challenge, and the DP World Tour Championship. All three are Rolex Series events on the European Tour with no cut. If he won any of the three, or had good finishes in all, he would have moved closer to his target of finishing the year inside the top-50 of the world ranking.
The top-50, especially towards the end of the year, is a sacrosanct figure in professional golf. It is one of the earliest ways to punch your ticket to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National.
The Hong Kong Open next week, which he is playing instead of the World Cup of Golf, is an attempt to secure the Asian Tour Order of Merit, which is not only a huge honour, but also gives him guaranteed starts in the British Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational next year.
With players like Sanghyun Park and Gaganjeet Bhullar breathing down his neck, Sharma did not have the luxury of taking a break during a $2 million prize money tournament.
The only thing Sharma can be blamed of is trying to chase too many things, but each of them is massively important for him as a professional golfer.
At 22 years, he has the benefit of being young and pushing his body. A few years down the line, he would probably not do what he has done this year. But by then, he would also have established himself in the highest echelons of the game and could afford to pick and choose his tournaments.