Golf: Shubhankar re-writes record books, youngest Indian to win on European Tour
Shubhankar Sharma completed a commanding three-shot win in a Monday finish at the Joburg Open, which was earlier suspended on Sunday
Shubhankar Sharma completed a commanding three-shot win in a Monday finish at the Joburg Open, which was earlier suspended on Sunday. The 21-year-old shot 69 in the final round and re-wrote a bunch of records enroute to 23-under 264 with rounds of 69, 61, 65 and 69. South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen (66) was second at 20-under, while Shaun Norris (65) and Finn Tapio Pulkkanen (68) were Tied-3rd in the event co-sanctioned by European, Asian and Sunshine Tours. The win in only his 10th European Tour start made Shubhankar the youngest Indian to win on the European Tour; the first Indian to win in South Africa and it was also his maiden win on any international Tour outside India. Shubhankar also assured himself a start in his first Major at the British Open at Carnoustie in July 2018.
Shubhankar, who was encouraged to turn pro before his 17th birdthday by his father, Col ML Sharma, the biggest influence in his career, also has five wins on the Indian PGTI Tour. Playing bogey-free over his last 55 holes, Sharma also rose to second on the Race to Dubai standings following his T-10 finish at Hong Kong and T-27 in Mauritius. He also shot up to sixth on Asian Tour Order of Merit. Soon after his Joburg win, he was on a flight to Jakarta for the season-ending Indonesia Masters on Asian Tour beginning Thursday. "It feels absolutely wonderful to have won this week," said Sharma, who was the lone Indian in the field of 240, who played the first two rounds on different courses, Firethorn and Bushwillow with final two rounds at Firethorn.
"I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago and I decided to come so I'm really happy that I came. This is my first time in South Africa and I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa," said Sharma. Sharma added, "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). "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. I just imagined that there was an invisible guy playing in my group and he was on 25-under. I was just trying to catch that invisible guy. I didn't quite catch him but I'm happy that I won."
Sharma, who met Els for the first time as an 11-year-old, when the latter came to India for the 2008 Emaar-MGF Masters, still carries the card given to him by the legend. "I would love to play in the South African Open and meet Ernie Els. I met him (again) in Macao two years back. He is such a wonderful guy, not only in South Africa but in world golf." Talking of Sunday night, Sharma said, "There were a lot of nerves. I got up like four times. I couldn't sleep because it was raining so hard and I kept getting up. You have nothing to lose if you are chasing someone. It is very tough to maintain your lead. There were a few nervy moments but I'm glad I pulled through." He added, "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."
Sharma's father, Col ML Sharma, who advised the youngster to turn pro early, recalled, "I felt he was ready for pro golf and he had the game for it. I felt he had nothing more to gain from amateur golf and he showed with a lot of good results early on." Sharma's 10-under and 7-under cards on second and third days gave him a solid five-shot lead coming into the final round. He was still four clear when play was halted due to storms on Sunday afternoon. On Monday, he showed no signs of nervousness or a break in momentum. He parred the eighth and birdied the ninth to get to 23-under, while South African Van Rooyen turned in 5-under 31 to move from 14-under to 19-under and was now four behind after starting the day six behind. Showing no pressure Sharma made pars on all nine holes on the back stretch. Van Rooyen managed only one more birdie on the back nine and finished 20-under, but three behind Sharma. Marcus Armitage (70) of England was fifth, while James Morrison (73) and Joachim Hansen (70) were Tied sixth at 13-under.
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