Shubhankar Sharma leads in Mexico heading into Sunday at the first World golf championship of the year. The on-course mics caught Sharma and his caddy Gurbaaz ‘Baaz’ Mann talking in Hindi much to the delight of Indian fans back home.
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Baaz who has had a front seat to the Sharma show is a well-known mentor and club fitter to a number of players up north in Chandigarh where he moved back after a few years at Columbus, Ohio in the United States. For him, this role as a confidant was years in the making.
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Mann was originally a footballer. Growing up he looked up to German striker Jurgen Klinsmann. He also played tennis like his father Ishwar Pratap Singh Mann who was captain of the Punjab University Lawn Tennis team.
While he played golf when he was younger, the interest in his words came later. Speaking from the range at the Chapultepec Golf Club in Mexico, he says “I was probably 16 or 17 when I shot 67 in a junior tournament in Chandigarh. At the time it was unheard of to shoot such a low score in that age division.” Mann would go on to become the number one ranked junior in the country.
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After finishing school, he took the college golf route in the States walking on at Arizona State University (ASU) known for producing golfers such as Phil Mickelson, Pat Perez, Chez Reavie and Alejandro Canizares. The latter two were on the team when Mann showed up to study business and play golf for Randy Lein.
He adds “It was a great experience, Canizares would go on to become the NCAA individual champion while leading ASU to the team championship in 2003.”
A year later, the prodigious long-hitter moved back to India and turned professional. “I came home from college and decided to play on the then Professional Golf Association of India (PGAI) tour which in my opinion was the best decision I took.”
He would go on to win the Surya Nepal Masters before a stint on the Asian Tour in 2006-2007. It was a bad hip injury that derailed him. Undiagnosed for three years, Mann discovered that he had a labrum tear which meant that his cartilage had torn.
After surgery to fix his problems, Mann wanted to put together what he had learned to come up with a system to help aspiring professionals. In his travels around the world, he met with many club fitting companies and individuals involved in the club making business.
“My goal is to put club fitting and teaching together. A golfer should expect the same response with all fourteen clubs in his bag.” offers Mann who has also spoken at the World Scientific Congress of Golf. He is quick to note that this is not the same as coaching.
“Call it mentoring instead. I have to understand what the player goes through – mood swings, the positives, luck.”
It was Sharma’s father Colonel Mohan who watched Mann go through the paces at the Chandigarh Golf Academy (CGA). He encouraged Mann, telling him that he had a different role to play, and should keep updating himself. Then there is the story of how he set up the Indo-American PGA which is well documented.
There was also a connection, as Mann’s late father who was the President at the Chandigarh Golf Club gave Shubhankar access to practice and play at the course. The senior Mann was a well-known amateur in his own right, winning amongst other accolades a bronze medal at the Asia Pacific Senior Golf Championship in 2010.
“Shubhankar saw me caddy for Ajeetesh (Sandhu) at the Take Solution in Bangalore. We made adjustments in his putting on the way to a 3rd place finish,” says Gurbaaz.
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The first time the two worked together was in South Korea at the Shinhan Donghae Open earlier last year. While Ajeetesh remains Baaz’s primary commitment on the bag, he is happy to help Shubhankar.
“Caddying is up close and personal. Everything is about gauging the situation. Shubhankar’s success is an attribute to the work put in two months ago. He is a quick learner, normally anyone else would take 5-6 months to process the same information and make it work.”
If Shubhankar is able to walk away from Mexico with a card to play in the States, Baaz will be there to assist him, scouting for a full-time caddy apart from anything else the 21-year-old may need.
The ASU connection runs strong, as Shubhankar tees off in the last group with Mickelson who has by his side brother Tim Mickelson, a former golf coach at ASU.
Baaz is yet to mention the connection but looks forward to the opportunity to play with the five-time major winner.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 4, 2018