Augusta: The dream has turned into a reality. And rather quickly, too, for Shubhankar Sharma. The 21-year-old, who many felt had turned pro, a little too early at 16 in 2013, is now at the Masters after winning a bunch of tournaments at the domestic Tour in India and in Asia and Europe. Now, it is time for the Masters, the tournament that many golfers never get to play despite long and distinguished careers. For them, it remains ‘that tournament’ which they have seen and experienced only through TV sets.

With a smile that is as disarming as his demeanour, Sharma admits, “I always dreamed of playing here, but to be honest I was very surprised when I got the invitation and I always wanted to get here, but just to get here so early is truly, truly a dream come true.”

He might call it a surprise, but it really wasn’t that big a surprise, considering his phenomenal rise over the last few months. From being a player ranked outside Top-500 in the world in the third week of November, 2017 he zoomed to the Top-75 by the first week of February, 2018, helped along the way by wins at the Jo’burg Open, which also secured him a spot at the 2018 British Open, and the Maybank Malaysian Championships.

In the first week of March, an amazing stretch of three rounds saw him take the lead into Sunday at the WGC-Mexico, where after playing alongside five-time Major winner, Phil Mickelson, he ended Tied-9th. That brought him within sniffing distance of Top-50 in the world, which would have got him into the Masters.

It's the Masters!

On the eve of the Hero Indian Open, which Indian players, including Sharma refer to as the fifth Major, the calculators were out to find out what finish would get the 21-year-old into Top-50 and the Masters.

All that speculation ended on Tuesday, when he got a call from Buzzy Johnson at the Augusta National. He missed the call because he was on a flight from Mexico to India. But he also got an email asking him to call back.

Sharma recalled, “I was flying back home from Mexico. Mr. Buzzy Johnson, who is the senior director at the Masters, was trying to get in touch with me. And I was in the flight so I couldn’t see the e‑mail. I saw it when I landed. I called him about 7:00 in the evening and pretty much had an idea that it might be, but I didn’t want to get my hopes too high.

“So I just gave him a call, and he congratulated me for my good play this year and he said that we would like to extend you an invite to the Masters. And it was very funny, the next day I was joking with my friends that there was ‑‑ I think that after the press conference there was a post on the Masters web site that ‘Shubhankar Sharma accepts the invitation to play in the Masters’. And I was like there’s no question about it. Why wouldn’t I accept it? Somebody gets an invite to the Masters, I will definitely accept that.”

So Sharma was into the Masters, regardless of where he finished at the Hero Indian Open. For the second week in a row he led into the final round, but again he missed out. He ended Tied-7th as Matt Wallace won. Well, Sharma is here and Wallace is not.

On Thursday, Sharma will play his first round with the 1987 Masters champion, Larry Mize, whose sensational chip from off the green in the play-off at the 11th hole that year won him the Masters ahead of the luckless Greg Norman and the Spanish legend Seve Ballesteros. Mize is to date the only player from Augusta to have ever won the Masters, and the third player in the group is another Georgian, Russell Henley.

The past few months have changed Sharma’s life in many ways, but the Masters was always his big dream. So, what is it that he likes most about it. He didn’t have to think much as he said, “The best part about it is that everything is so grand, everything is so huge. This is the best ‑‑ I’m pretty sure this is the best event in golf. The way it’s staged and everything is so proper. I would say the word I use is that it’s just very, very grand. It’s a very, very grand stage. You get to the first tee, and you can see the whole course. You can see so many people walking.”

“I think it’s just celebration of golf. There’s a piece of history in every part of the course. That’s the best part.”

Augusta may be a long distance form his home in Panchkula next to the better-known Chandigarh, but Sharma is sure to feel at home with his entire family around him.

His Dad, Col ML Sharma, who gave up his job in the Army to help him with his pro career in golf and with whom he first went to a golf course in 2002 and with whom he watched his first Masters live on TV in 2007. There is his mother, Neena Sharma, quiet and understated, but who holds a doctorate. However, it is her cooking that is Sharma’s favourite and he shall have it in plenty this week. And finally, his kid sister, Vandini, who dreams of being a journalist and is taking notes of every step that her brother takes in Augusta and on his journey to stardom.