Shubhankar Sharma, take a bow! India has another winner on the European Tour after 21-year-old Sharma won the Joburg Open by three shots. This makes the young man from Chandigarh the fifth Indian to win a European Tour event following in the footsteps of Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh, SSP Chowrasia and Anirban Lahiri.
This victory brings with it a spot at The Open Championship for Sharma next year. Qualification for The Open, which will held at the very difficult layout at the Carnoustie Golf Links, and a two-year exemption to play in Europe, are indeed massive and well-earned rewards. Joining Sharma at Carnoustie will be South Africans Erik van Rooyen and Shaun Norris, who finished second and T3 respectively at the Randalpark Golf Club in Johannesburg.
The young Indian golfer, who turned professional after winning the All India Amateur Golf Championship in 2013 as a 17-year-old schoolboy, has five wins on the PGTI and has been a regular on the Asian tour since 2015.
Bizarrely, a week ago Sharma wasn't even scheduled to make the trek to South Africa, a decision that has changed the course of his life, catapulting him to No 2 on the European Tour Order of Merit with full status on the big stage. Just a few weeks ago, he finished 69th after six rounds at the European Tour Q-school in Spain and was left with conditional status. All of that has now changed following his rounds of 69, 61, 65 and 69, of which the last three rounds were remarkably bogey-free.
All week long his play has been solid in all departments, swinging confidently and finding fairways followed by laser-like irons to greens. He made some important up and downs when he missed greens, especially on the home stretch on the final day, all whilst displaying an air of calm befitting a veteran. Who would have known that this was just a young 21-year-old who struggled to sleep the night before as the heavy rains lashed his hotel room window?
Starting the final round on Sunday with a five-stroke advantage, he held on to a four-stroke lead when thunderstorms meant that the final 10 holes of his round would have to be played on Monday. That he parred all final nine holes to close with a three-stroke victory indeed is special. Sharma played tight and measured golf, and nobody got within sniffing distance of him. That said, Sharma did fall short of his target 4 round score of 25-under by a couple of shots.
Sharma has had his share of close calls on the Asian Tour, he had narrowly lost a play-off to S Chikkarangappa at the Take Solutions Indian Masters in 2015 (an Asian Development Tour event back then) and has had top-10 finishes in another five Asian Tour events leading up to another good finish in the UBS Hong Kong Open two weeks ago.
Son of an army man, Sharma clearly has the steely determination of a warrior with a purpose. The young man of course will make the mid-year trip in 2018 to the land where golf was born, but the schedule that he had made for the rest of the season will now go through a major overhaul. The 'Desert Swing' across Abu Dhabi, Qatar and Dubai in early 2018 — all three events which are rich in tradition and prize money — will auger well for a solid follow through to his victory in Johannesburg.
- The Joburg Open is a tri-sanctioned event by the European, Asian and South African Sunshine Tours.
- The Joburg Open in the largest full field event in the world with 240 players playing on two golf courses.
- Sharma's current world ranking of 482 will rise by over 200 spots as a result of this victory.
- He becomes the youngest Indian to win on the European Tour.
- The Joburg Open was only his 10th event on the European Tour.
- He won the All India Amateur Championship in 2013 at RCGC as a 17-year-old, beating then 16-year-old Viraj Maddappa in the finals.
The author is a golfer who represented India from 1988 to 1991 and captained the West Zone from 1996 to 2001.
Updated Date: Dec 12, 2017 20:35:15 IST