This has indeed been a tremendous week for Indian golf. That Shubhankar Sharma won his second European Tour title in less than three months is absolutely amazing. The route he has taken in this magical journey is in itself intriguing.
Shubhankar's career graph continues to soar and on Tuesday he checked in at No 72 in the official world golf rankings, thereby narrowly overtaking his senior country-mate and PGA Tour member Anirban Lahiri who sits at No 76.
We also have four other Indian golfers who rank among the world's top 250. Gaganjeet Bhullar is ranked at No 155, Shiv Kapur at 192, Ajeetesh Sandhu at 199 and SSP Chawrasia at 226. Among the women, Aditi Ashok sits at No 78.
Only Kapur went to college in the US (Purdue University) on a golf scholarship for the entire four years, while the others honed their skills back home in India. This is something which I refer to when I refer to the organic 'desi' route.
Let's talk then on 'desi' route. A case point in point is South Korea. They have a very solid coaching programme and have structured a very competitive local system right from junior golf to professional golf and that they have four women in the top 10 and 39 in the top 100 on the Rolex World Rankings is a testament to the success of their system.
It may come as a surprise to many that some of their top-ranked golfers continue to primarily compete in South Korea and Asia and hardly ever in Europe or the US. Well, it's a choice they have made. Of course when the legendary Se Ri Pak showed up in the US in the 1990s and shook up the American stranglehold, she essentially paved the way for the current generation of South Koreans. What isn't known to many is that when she did make it to the US, she had her support team and her schedule planned out to the smallest detail, sponsorships included. This was something confirmed by Simi Mehra, a close friend of Se Ri Pak and Swedish golfer Annika Sorenstam. Mehra herself has been a flag-bearer for Indian golf, having competed on the LPGA for 16 years. Mehra made it there entirely on her own with her grit, talent and support from her parents.
Now the South Korean men are coming through as well. The charge started over a decade ago by KJ Choi, followed up by YE Yang (Asia's first winner of a Major), Si Woo Kim, Sang Moon Bae and so on. Something seems to be working very well for the South Koreans.
Let's look at the US now. It's well documented that 2016 US Open winner Brooks Koepka left the confines and comfort of the US and along with his buddy Peter Uihlein travelled to Asia and Europe (North Africa too) and played on different courses in different conditions, against competitors from multiple countries rather than staying on in the US and playing on the courses they grew up on. Their results only lend credence to the fact that to complete their golf education they needed to go beyond the usual route. It something South African legends Gary Player and Ernie Els have been the lifelong proponents of. Clearly being a global golfer works.
As Vivek Bhandari, former national champion and winner of the inaugural SIAL Honda PGA Championship of India opined, "I feel so happy and proud of these two guys... top 100 in the world. Both of them played junior golf, then amateur golf, followed by PGTI right here in India, before they took off on the international golf scene. No need for college golf in the USA or foreign coaches; these guys are the trailblazers who have shown the youngsters that it can be done right here. Awesome".
Bhandari also felt that 25 years ago when he left India to play collegiate golf in the US (at University of Southern California) he actually missed out on four years by being away, to some of his peers who honed their craft back in India, and that it left him playing catch up.
No bigger evidence of the importance of the 'desi' route is required than the fact that several of our home-grown coaches like Vijay Divecha and Jesse Grewal are producing results. It's only a matter of time before other leading and truly 'Made in India' coaches will also emerge.
Of course, visiting international coaches, such as Steven Giuliano from Australia, who travels to India five-six times annually and works with top talents, are beginning to show that the action may after all be right here.
More importantly, the continued success stories of the Indian players will likely cause a domino effect and the next generation of young professionals and amateurs will embrace the opportunities and exposure that golf in Asia and Asia-Pacific presents. Self-belief aside, the genuine desire to compete on the world stage is now a reality and we will see the emergence of more Indians on the world stage in the not-too-distant future.
Shubhankar Sharma fast facts:
* He leads both the European Tour race to Dubai and the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
* He is the third Indian golfer to win twice on the European Tour in the same season, following Jeev Milkha Singh (2006) and Anirban Lahiri (2015).
* He was introduced to golf at the age of six at the recommendation of Tushar Lahiri (Anirban's father).
* He's already qualified to play at The Open and WCGC events in Mexico.
The author is a golfer who represented India from 1988 to 1991 and captained the West Zone from 1996 to 2001.
Updated Date: Feb 07, 2018 15:08 PM