Jeju island, South Korea: Shubhankar Sharma will continue his quest to get closer to the ultimate goal of getting onto the PGA Tour, as he tees up at this week at the $9.5 million CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges.
The PGA card apart, Shubhankar also has in his sights a spot on the International team and the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020. Last week, in his opening start on the PGA Tour event in 2018-19 season, he was T-10 at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, after co-leading through 54 holes. It was his second Top-10 in the calendar year 2018, but was in different PGA seasons.
Shubhankar's disappointment was short-lived as he got a special invite for a nine-hole practice round from the South African legend Ernie Els, who is captain of the International team for the Presidents Cup in 2019.
Shubhankar has time and again recalled in the past year that it was the memory of Els spotting him at a golf clinic for juniors in New Delhi in 2008 at the Emaar-MGF Masters, an Asian and European Tour event, that set him on road to serious golf.
"We were just chatting a lot about his life on tour," said Shubhankar of his day with Els. "He said he's so happy that kids like me are coming up now and that the International Team is actually looking really strong. I think he's a great captain and definitely we'll have a great team together."
Shubhankar recalled of that day with Els at the Delhi Golf Club, saying, "I traveled a long way just to get to Delhi. I walked with Ernie in the first round and I think after the second round was when he had his clinic. I was one of the lucky ones to go up to him and say hi and then obviously hit a few shots with his 9‑iron. There was like a 100 yard board on the range and I hit both my shots, landed right next to the board. The crowd was clapping and it was quite a good moment for me. There were two or three kids before me who tried to hit it and they couldn't really connect. It was his club, it was like a heavy 9 iron, so just to hit those two shots was very special and that made my day."
"And then Ernie gave me his card, he signed his card and gave it to me and he said, 'You'll be a good player one day, just keep working hard', So we were talking about it and it's always nice when I remember that day."
Els, who has featured in eight Presidents Cup, believes Shubhankar will contend for a place in his International team. "I played with Shubhankar, who's had an incredible year. He's won a few times around the world in one year and he's only 22 years old," said the 49-year-old.
"I wasn’t familiar that he was right behind me when we were hitting balls and we were talking about it. This kind of stories doesn’t normally happen. You watch your hero play and you want be like him. It’s not many times it comes to fruition. I had the same situation with Gary Player where I asked him for his autograph when I was a kid and he doesn’t even remember. But it made such an impact in my life and it’s amazing how it translates in your mind and changes your life. It’s amazing how you can touch lives without even knowing," added Els.
Shubhankar's close friend and fellow India Anirban Lahiri has played the last two Presidents Cup and like him, or preferably with him, Sharma wants to make the team to Royal Melbourne.
"The next Presidents Cup is going to be huge with Ernie and Tiger (Woods) being the captains. The International Team could have pulled off a great win in Korea (in 2015). It definitely ranks in the top three (goals) with the majors and with the WGCs. Playing the Presidents Cup would be a huge honour," he said.
"Anirban has done it, and if both of us can make the team, that will be the icing on the cake. Obviously we'll have more fans back home in India. We have more than a billion people in India and may be a few percent will follow the Presidents Cup if we do make it. I think it will be great for our country and for golf back in Asia."
Shubhankar contended in Malaysia last weekend before slipping back with a closing 72.
Shubhankar, after the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges will travel for next week’s World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Shanghai. Both events do not have halfway cuts, so he's hoping to take a big step towards earning his PGA Tour card via non-member category.
“Only good things, positives to take away from last week,” said Shubhankar, who got into this week’s field as the highest ranked player from the Asian Tour. "It's always good when you're in contention at a PGA Tour event and I've been lucky enough to be in contention twice this year, leading off the three days in both the tournaments.
"A top‑10 finish is never bad on the PGA Tour even though I would have liked to be slightly higher than that, but I just want to take positives out of last week. I feel like my game's in a good spot and I have two more weeks, this week and next week as well, so try and do my best and we'll see how it goes,” said Shubhankar, who finished T9 at the WGC-Mexico Championship in February.
Updated Date: Oct 18, 2018 15:30:45 IST