Shubhankar Sharma faded away dramatically on the last day of the Indian Open to finish tied-7th on 4-under 284 for the tournament, seven strokes behind eventual winner Matt Wallace of England, who pipped countryman Andrew Johnston in a play-off.
The 21-year-old faded away for the second time in as many weeks, ending with a 3-over 75 for the day, after having been in a share of the overnight leader with Wallace after 54 holes. The DLF Golf and Country Club course in Gurugram, recognised as the toughest course in the country, did not spare it’s own favourite son.
The world number 66, having received an invitation to play in the Augusta Masters and another to play a round with Rory McIlroy, ahead of the world’s most prestigious golf tournament, started well with two birdies on the second and fourth but slipped up on the 5th, 7th and 15th holes, managing a double bogey on each of those three holes.
Sharma’s off-field demeanour is very much the inverse of his on-field play. The soft-spoken Chandigarh lad, who labels himself a ‘chatterbox’ has been described as an aggressive player on the course, opting for shots experienced pros would leave alone.
It was an extremely risky tactic to try on this course, one which is known to have slipped up players like Miguel Angel Cabrera in the past. SSP Chawrasia, the two-time defending champion didn’t even make the cut this time. Jyoti Randhawa, the next-highest ranked Indian at the 2018 tournament, finished 9 shots behind Sharma, ending the tournament at a dismal 5-over. The Gary Player course would thoroughly eviscerate your game, if you even so slightly dithered in line and technique.
On day one, Sharma had found that out to his disadvantage as he had a disastrous back nine, dropping five shots. With the gameplay that he has displayed in Jo’burg, Malaysia and Mexico, he came roaring back setting a course record 64, with only one bogey and eight birdies to his name.
“I hit a lot of bad shots today. It’s that kind of course; you play bad shots, you get penalised,” said a pensive-looking Sharma afterwards. On the par-3 190-yard 5th hole, he said he misjudged the distance, “I miscalculated the yardage. I was probably too aggressive there, should have hit it with a 7-iron there, went with a 6-iron.”
His misfortune didn’t end there. The 417-yard 7th entrapped him as Sharma, looking to make par, hit a low fade shot, “I was just trying to keep up with Matt. He was playing so well. I made a bad swing on the fifth hole, which put me out of contention. I was trying to come back, but I made another bad swing on the seventh. You can’t really drop too many shots on this course and I dropped nine today. I thought I hit a good tee shot, but couldn’t convert as my low fade shot ended in a low cut.”
He chose to reflect on his shot choice, “This being my home course, I haven’t hit water on that hole many times, should have gone conservate, went aggressive.”
Till the very end, Sharma continued his approach. While the rest in the last tee-off group opted for a safe shot on the 18th, he went straight for the hole, fetching him a birdie.
“I play aggressively but smart. I don’t think I go for stupid shots. If you have to shoot a 62 or a 64, you have to do stuff that other players don’t. I try to control my aggression but when I see a shot, I go for it.” Apart from the course record 64 here, Sharma had also recorded a 62 at the final round of the Maybank championship and a 61 at the second round in Joburg.
“They don’t call him Phil (Phil Mickelson) the Thrill for nothing. He takes chances, and when they come off, it looks good,” says Shubhankar talking of his golfing ideology. “A golf swing is like a well-oiled machine, last season, we put in lots of hard work into it. I have always had a good wing but I’m getting much better at every aspect of the game.”
“I had zero pressure today, I already qualified for the Masters. Last week prepared me. I’ll have fun at the Masters as I expect I will have tough weeks throughout my career. My game is good enough to compete at that level though. I just need to see the job out,” said Sharma when asked of the tension on his shoulders coming into the final round.
Wallace also had words of praise for Sharma, “As soon as we finished yesterday and Shubhankar made birdie on 18th and we’re tied, I told Dave, ‘we’re not going to be favourites tomorrow.’ But as soon as I woke up in the morning, I was like, this is going to be like round one and shoot my best. Play the aggressive shot when you need it to be. That front nine today was special to me this week.
“If Shubhankar had played well and has the local support, it’s going to be really tough. For him to achieve all the things he has done, he has been phenomenal. I’ve done something similar, but on a lower level. I won many times on the Alps Tour within a short time. We had a chat on the golf course and I think he’s going to do really well.”