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.
21-year-old @shubhankargolf from India has accepted an invitation to compete in the 2018 Masters. He will become the fourth player from India to compete in the Masters in April. https://t.co/Ij15mIDsIK #themasters pic.twitter.com/mFxNYsc13g
— Masters Tournament (@TheMasters) March 6, 2018
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.
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).
“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!”