Shubhankar now eyes Indian Open

Be it The Masters or Open Championship, the setting gets bigger from here, but for Shubhankar Sharma contending at the Majors will be a continuation of the “process” that started with the Joburg Open, an event he almost did not play.

Since that win in December, there has been little time to think as he kept playing to prove he didn’t win by chance. “Whenever I’ve set the bar high, I’ve done well,” he said on the eve of the Hero Indian Open, where he will tee off on Thursday under a fair bit of attention at the DLF Golf and Country Club.

The talk on the 21-year-old being extended an invitation by the Masters committee got louder after the Maybank Championship triumph but Shubhankar thought he had botched up his chance by missing back-to-back cuts in Oman and Qatar.

When the invite finally came on Tuesday via a phone call (the norm is it arrives by post), there was relief.

The Open has been closest to heart (among Majors) since he was a child, but a start at the Augusta National (Masters’ venue) is what he yearned for. After all, there is no better place for a golfer to prove his worth.

“I remember telling Baaz (caddie Gurbaaz Mann) that we have to play well from now on (after the Qatar Masters) to make it, and before going to bed every night we’d watch a Masters film on the laptop (to serve as inspiration).

Shubhankar arrived in Mexico City for the WGC-Mexico Championship for his maiden start on the PGA Tour, having little else to fall back on save his confidence. After leading into the final day, a lot of debutants would have settled for the T9 finish, but not so for one striving for more.

Time on his hands, there was introspection on the flight back. “I kept telling myself I did not finish well enough (to deserve an invite).” After the call on Tuesday, the pain’s been washed away.

Though yet to play a round at the Augusta National or Carnoustie Golf Links (venue of The Open), there is enough familiarity with what lies in store at each hole, courtesy the hours spent watching live action on TV.

Experiencing pressure like never before and coming out wiser after Sunday, Shubhankar knows he is up for the test. “I am ready to contend, knowing that my best is good enough for a top-five finish or even a win (at a Major).”

For one who claimed the support in the stands on the final day of the WGC equalled if not outnumbered Phil Mickelson’s (the winner), the crowd following him this week would pale in comparison. While he is appreciative of the buzz, talk of expectations is dismissed.