Can Subhankar Sharma be the barrier-breaker for Indian golf?

The 27-year-old sensation, who created a stir with a top-10 finish in The Open last month, holds court on his career goals and strikes an upbeat note about India’s gold medal chances in Asian Games

Indian golfer Subhankar Sharma (Photo: Getty Images)
Indian golfer Subhankar Sharma (Photo: Getty Images)

Gautam Bhattacharyya

It’s been three weeks since Subhankar Sharma raised a storm with the best-ever finish by an Indian in The Open (British Open) – the last golf major of the year – but the ripples are still being felt in the country’s golf community. The expectations of the 27-year-old soft spoken golfer, as and when he qualifies for any next major, will rise a few notches but he is ready to deal with it. 

Just how big was Sharma’s joint eighth place finish at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Merseyside, England? There have been only two Indians before him who finished in the top-10 of a major – Anirban Lahiri’s tied fifth place in PGA Championship in 2015 was the best-ever by an Indian while Jeev Milkha Singh finished a joint ninth in the 2008 PGA showpiece. 

Currently enjoying a well-earned break before hitting the DP World Tour in two weeks’ time in Switzerland, Sharma says he would rate his performance on four days of The Open as his most consistent so far. ‘’The performance would give me a huge self belief when I walk into play a major next time. It can go someway to show that Indian golfers can also mount a challenge against the best in the business,’’ Sharma told the National Herald

A sequence of 68-71-70-70 scores in the world’s oldest major, with just one bogey in the final two days, is simply tell-tale. Asked if he would rate this performance even higher than the WGC-Mexico Championship in 2018, a top-tier event which he came close to winning, Sharma reflected during a telephonic interview: ‘’Yes. I admit that I was leading against a very strong field after three days which comprised of Phil Mickelson there, but I will have to rate The Open higher. Everything came into place for me in England though with the benefit of hindsight, I feel I could have got in a few more putts.’’ 

A two-time winner of the DP World Tour titles, Sharma – currently ranked 171 in OWGR (Official World Golf Ranking) – still has quite a number of weeks on the road before he joins in the Indian contingent for the Asian Games in Hangzhou. A strong seven-member Indian squad, comprising of Olympians Lahiri, SSP Chowrasia, Sharma and the Asian Tour champion Khalin Joshi in men’s squad and Aditi Ashok (fourth place finisher in Tokyo Olympics) alongwith Avani Prasanth and Pranavi Urs among women will be in the fray for the event scheduled from September 28 to October 1 at the West Lake International Golf Course in Hangzhou. 

‘’It’s a very good side on paper. Lahiri, Chowrasia and Aditi have the experience of playing in team events and if everyone can play at their best, then we have got a good chance to gun for the gold,’’ Subhankar looked ahead. Incidentally, India has won gold in the continental Games only once in the 1982 edition when golf was introduced – the quartet of Lakshman Singh, Rajiv Mohta, Rishi Narain and Amit Luthra making history with the team gold. 

If the Asian Games will be like ticking a box for Sharma, the Paris 2024 is also on the in-form golfer’s radar. ‘’It will be amazing if I can qualify but again, it will come down to my rankings. I have that on the back on my mind and I am familiar with the course there but frankly speaking, it’s still a year away. I have set a few goals for myself before that,’’ he analysed. 

The terrain of top-level golf is an unforgiving one where a ticket to each of the majors is a testimony to a golfer’s current form. While Sharma’s top-10 finish in The Open will guarantee him a berth in next year’s edition in July 2024, he is still far off from a berth in next Augusta Masters – the first major of the year.  

’The top-50 get an automatic qualification in the majors and I am far from it. I will now aim for consistency so that I can make it to the Masters – you can say that’s my immediate goal,’’ he said.    

The awareness about golf has certainly increased in India over the last two decades or so, with the number of youngsters taking to the sport soaring and the corporate bigwigs seeing a marketing sense to get involved in it. However, Sharma is not sure if the enormity of his achievement in the Open has really sunk in fully with the average sports followers in his country. 

However, instead of blaming it on their lack of awareness, Sharma feels any sport needs to have a game-changing moment for that push in popularity. ‘’Look at what the 1983 World Cup win has done for cricket in India. Sachin Tendulkar has often said that he was inspired to take up the game after that euphoria.  

‘’I remember that soon after I became a pro, Anirban’s top-10 finish worked as a catalyst for me. If anyone of us can create such a huge moment in the Olympics, Asiad or a major, there will surely a huge surge of interest,’’ he signed off on an optimistic note. 

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Published: 17 Aug 2023, 10:40 AM