Georgia on Shubhankar’s mind

by Aman Misra in Pune

Another Saturday round in the books and Shubhankar Sharma is in contention again. This time it isn’t in faraway Mexico but on familiar turf saddled with the comforts of home at the DLF Golf and Country Club in New Delhi at the ongoing Indian Open.

At the beginning of the week, Augusta National Golf Club announced that it would invite the 21-year-old to play the 82nd edition of the famed Green Jacket tournament to be held in the first week of April next month.

This makes him part of a select group who the Green Coats have invited as per their discretion. The last one handed out was to Ryo Ishikawa in 2013, while it makes Sharma the fourth Indian to play the tournament after Jeev Milkha Singh, Anirban Lahiri, and Arjun Atwal.

Your correspondent caught up with Guy Yocom, senior writer at Golf Digest, a veteran of over 30 years in sports journalism who has seen countless Masters tournaments apart from the other majors to talk about the significance of this invite and Sharma’s play internationally.

Guy Yocom. Credits – Twitter @guy_yocom1

On the phone from his home in the United States, Yocom says “The Masters committee vetted him very closely. This being a tradition that goes back to the origins of the tournament in 1934, they don’t only look at what kind of a player he is, but also the kind of person. The player has to be very worthy. Shubhankar is all of that. ”

“Sharma is a breath of fresh year. When he first played in America last week, the golf world knew nothing about him. Americans were very intrigued.”

He also added that he was knocked out by a number of things in the Indian professional’s swing. Yocom said “He has a fantastic technique which is very sound. There’s power in his classical golf swing but he stays within himself. Even when he was off on Sunday, his tempo didn’t change much. All these things are the mark of a good player.”

There was also something that Yocom noticed on the back nine Sunday in Mexico when Sharma slammed his club after missing a putt. “I liked that. Not to undermine etiquette of any kind, but it shows that he has a fire in his belly even though he was out of contention by then. These are good signs to see in a young player.”

Coming to the question of the Masters, the veteran writer is quick to note that Augusta has not been very kind to Masters rookies, with only three wins by a first timer in the tournament’s history (Horton Smith 1934, Gene Sarazen 1935, and Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979).

Zoeller in 1979

“On the other hand take the case of Daniel Berger who wasn’t too clued up about the Augusta history and all of that. He played approximately 18 holes in practice, nine each day before finishing 10th in his debut two years ago so ignorance could be bliss.”

Yocom is also quick to mention how overwhelming a Masters debut can be. “It’s not like any other week in golf. Very busy, so it can get physically and mentally demanding all things considered. He should perhaps rent a house for the week, and keep his environment quiet. When you get tired, it can make your confidence swirl in a hurry.”

“There’s no reason why he shouldn’t play well if he plays close attention to his practice rounds, apart from making sure he has an experienced caddy on the bag. A good caddy at Augusta is invaluable – that should not be taken lightly,” adds Yocom.

Whatever said and done, Yocom who has taken a lesson from Ben Hogan and won 20$ off Phil Mickelson is certain of one thing – “He’ll have the week of his life!”

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Amateurs at the Indian Open

by Aman Misra, in Pune

Every year, the Indian Open field includes four amateurs who have finished at the top of the gentleman’s rankings on the Indian Golf Union’s (IGU) tour. In the past, this list has included some of the who’s who of Indian golf including Jyoti Randhawa who won both the amateur (in 1992) and professional divisions (thrice 2000, 2006, and 2007) among others who have gone on to have fine careers as professionals. Infact, the first Indian winner of the Open was an amateur – PG ‘Billo’ Sethi in 1965.

This year’s class includes Kshitij Naveed Kaul, Kartik Sharma, Yashas Chandra and Dhruv Sheoran who were the top-ranked golfers for the year 2017. Think of them as the golfing equivalent of the U19 or U23 cricket teams, unequivocally the future of Indian golf. Your correspondent caught up with them on Wednesday, a day before the tournament began.

Kshitij Naveed Kaul – Kshitij picked up golf when he was three and a half. Growing up as the son of a Navy man, he would follow dad to the golf course at 3 am before heading off to school. Now all of 17, this is his first appearance at the Indian Open. He is the youngest in this week’s field. As a junior, Kaul led the proceedings in the IGU amateur standings despite being a year shy of officially being called an amateur.

In the past, he has played a couple of professional events including last year’s Take Solutions in Bangalore on the Asian Tour where he missed cut.

Kshitij at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships in Wellington New Zealand 2017.

According to Paramjit Singh, an IGU rules official, Kaul is beyond his years. “Bad shots don’t rattle the young lad. During a tournament in Hyderabad, I saw him start on the 10th, and on the 15th he hit two balls out of bounds. That didn’t deter him as he came back strongly on the front-nine to move up the leaderboard” adds Singh.

Kaul works with Commander Gangadhar Sake who has in the past worked with Arshdeep Tiwana and Joseph Chakola to name a few. He plans to play a few more professional events as an amateur before making the big jump to the professional leagues.

On playing in his National Open, Kaul says “This is a massive learning curve. To get to play with the European and Asian stars is something I have looked forward to.”

Kartik Sharma – The southpaw from Delhi who works with Anitya Chand at the DLF Golf and Country Club, was originally interested in tennis till he was 10 years old. After his father who is in the Army was posted to Mathura, he took to golf as there was a course right outside his residence.

Sharma (middle) in a group that includes five Indian Open titles!

According to Paramjit Singh, Sharma is one of the best left-handed golfers he has seen on tour. “His game, attitude, and decision-making stands out. He’s one of the most knowledgeable juniors when it comes to the rules of golf. Sharma always knows when to get maximum relief when he’s in a sticky situation.” added the rules official.

On playing in his National Open, the 18-year-old says “It’s not easy to play the Indian Open as an amateur. Somewhere at the back of my mind, it was a goal to make it in 2018 so this is special.”

Dhruv Sheoran – A year removed from his PGTI qualifying school triumph, Sheoran at 23 is a late bloomer according to the former Director General of the IGU Arun Singh.

He followed that up with a win at last year’s Sri Lankan Amateur.

Dhruv with the Sri Lankan Amateur trophy last year.

Dhruv has resisted turning professional after getting through q-school this year because he wants to wait for the Jakarta Asian Games slated in August later in the year.

Playing his first Indian Open, Sheoran says “It’s going to be a long week, have to be patient. I have made some tweaks in my swing with my coach (Anitya Chand) at the DLF, so hope it comes together.”

Yashas Chandra – Chandra is an anomaly says, Arun Singh. Hailing from Mysuru which is also home to two well-known juniors Aalap Il and Pranavi Urs, the Karnataka local boy took the game up at 10 and hasn’t looked back ever since.

According to Paramjit Singh, “In Mysuru, the fairways double up as practice facilities. So for Yashas to come through from a tier-2 city is phenomenal considering that the coaching there is next to zero.”

Yashas finished Runner-up at last year’s Gujarat Amateur.

This is Yashas’s third crack at the Indian Open after two previous missed cuts at the 2016 and 2017 editions. Currently pursuing a BTech degree in Civil Engineering, the 23-year-old finished T15 at the PGTI q-school to earn his card this year. He plans to turn professional post the Asian Games. Yashas is currently coached by Laurence Brotheridge in Pune.

Adding to his past record at the Open, Chandra says “The main this is the experience gained. Playing well this week can open a lot of doors for any one of us.”

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Chawrasia chases rare treble in New Delhi

by Aman Misra, in Pune.

In the history of the Indian Open, there have been eight multiple winners. Peter Thomson and Jyoti Randhawa have won thrice each, while a group of six including Ali Sher and Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia have two titles each.

Few have a record at the Open like Chawrasia which also includes four runner-up finishes before he broke through in 2016. Coming into this year’s edition, the unflappable soft-spoken Kolkatan has the chance to seal a rare treble.

Dating back 53 previous editions of the tournament, no one has ever won the title three times in a row. The last time something of this proportion occurred in professional golf was probably when Padraig Harrington came to Turnberry after winning the previous two Open Championships in 2007 and 2008.

Chawrasia has won the last two Indian Open titles by a combined nine shots. Your correspondent caught up with the European Tour regular as he prepared to play a practice round at the Gary Player course, this week’s venue for the championship between 8-11 of March.

Chawrasia (right) with his nephew Puneet at last year’s edition where he won by 7 shots.
Photo Credits – Getty Images

On the offseason – “Didn’t do much after the Tour Championship in Kolkata (where he finished 10th). Stayed home, worked out and rested. Did not play too much either. There was a niggle in my left knee which is fine now.”

On his season so far – “I have been playing well, it is just that the two round cut at various events have been lower than usual. Need a good start and I’ll be fine.” (He is yet to shoot a score worse than 74 this season)

On work with Pritam Saikia and Sundeep Verma this week – “We’ve worked on the driver for the most part. Specifically looking to see if the driver shaft can be replaced with another option. Otherwise the current configuration is also good to go.”

Screenshot from Ultimate Golf’s Instagram.

Changes to the Gary Player Course at the DLF G&CG – “They have pushed some tee boxes back, especially the holes on the back nine including the 10,14,15 and 17. (Last year, only seven players finished under par)

Winning score this week – “In my estimate will not be lower than seven or eight under. Similar conditions to last year as we speak.”

On turning 40 this May – “Age is just a number! It all depends on how you are thinking – having said that I will play less than my usual quota of 30 tournaments this year.”

Any pressure given the three-peat? “Not at all. Won’t stray too much from last year’s game plan – Puneet(his nephew) is back on the bag and we’ll go shot-by-shot, staying in the moment. We’re in the now.”

Best finish this season by SSP – 7th at the UBS Hong Kong Open in November where he led wire-to-wire until the final 18.

Multiple winners of the Indian Open –

Peter Thomson – 3
Jyoti Randhawa – 3
Brian Jones – 2
Graham Marsh – 2
Kenji Hosoishi – 2
Ali Sher – 2
Thaworn Wiratchant – 2
SSP Chawrasia – 2

Other notable Indians likely to be in the field this week –

Anirban Lahiri (*)
Shiv Kapur
Gaganjeet Bhullar
Shubhankar Sharma
Ajeetesh Sandhu
Jeev Milkha Singh
Jyoti Randhawa (*)
Arjun Atwal (*)
Rahil Gangjee
Rashid Khan
Chikkarangappa S
Aman Raj
Viraj Madappa

(*) Denotes previous winner of Indian Open

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