Johannesburg: Shubhankar Sharma became the first Indian golfer to clinch the Joburg Open on Monday, his maiden European Tour title that also earned him a ticket to the prestigious British Open next year.
The 21-year-old closed with a three-under 69 and was bogey-free in the final 54 holes as he ended his first tournament in South Africa with an impressive winning total of 23-under 264 at the Randpark Golf Club.
Sharma defeated home favourite Erik van Rooyen (66) by three shots to claim the trophy, which was sanctioned by the Asian Tour as well.
"It feels fantastic. I'm glad I made the decision to come here after thinking about not coming. It has been absolutely fantastic and the people are very welcoming. I don't think I will ever forget this week. This is my first win on the Asian Tour and the European Tour so it means a lot to me," he said.
"Playing in The Open is everyone's dream. Personally it is my favourite Major championship. I've watched it every year on television and to be playing in it next year is absolutely fantastic," he added.
Two-time Asian Tour winner Shaun Norris (65) of South Africa and Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland settled for third place at the event sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and Sunshine Tour.
Van Rooyen booked a spot at Carnoustie and he will be joined by countryman Norris, who earned his second appearance at The Open after being ranked higher than Pulkkanen on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Sharma, on the ninth hole overnight, returned to strike a birdie before parring his way home for a 69 to become the first Asian and Indian golfer to win the 16.5 million rands (approximately USD 1.2 million) event.
The victory made more special for the talented Indian as he won in the country of his golfing idol Ernie Els, who he met as an 11-year-old boy at the Delhi Golf Club in 2007.
Sharma caught the attention of Els at a golf clinic and after watching him hit a seven iron, the 'Big Easy' gave him an autographed business card and said, "Well when you grow up, I'll be your agent".
"The only thing I was telling myself was to stay aggressive. I never wanted to be defensive. Even when I was leading I never thought of defending my lead. I actually set a target of 25-under and I only shot a 23-under (laughs)," he said.
"After yesterday's rain delay I was walking back to the clubhouse and I saw Erik (van Rooyen) had just hit it to two feet so that was a birdie and it would narrow the gap to three shots. In golf, three shots is nothing. We've seen people drop shots," he added.
Sharma said he wants to meet Els again at some stage in his career.
"I would love to play in the South African Open and meet Ernie Els. I met him in Macao two years back. He is such a wonderful guy, not only in South Africa but in world golf. What happened to me in 2007 obviously changed everything for me.
"I was so happy and I framed the card. It just shows that small things from great players like him goes a long way. I was only an 11-year-old boy back then," he added.
Firstpost is now on WhatsApp. For the latest analysis, commentary and news updates, sign up for our WhatsApp services. Just go to Firstpost.com/Whatsapp and hit the Subscribe button.
Updated Date: Dec 11, 2017 23:28:03 IST