Despite banking close to US$700,000 following two victories since December, India’s Shubhankar Sharma has kept his feet firmly grounded, even if it meant flying halfway around the world on economy class for his maiden World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship this week.
The 21-year-old Indian enters the US$10 million showpiece as the No. 1 ranked golfer on both the European Tour’s Race to Dubai and Asian Tour’s Habitat for Humanity standings but he is happy to fly under the radar as the game’s elite gathers at Golf Club de Chapultepec.
A year ago, Sharma was waking up in the middle of the night to watch the WGC-Mexico Championship, won by Dustin Johnson, but victories at the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship, both sanctioned by the Asian and European Tours, have propelled him into the limelight.
“It’s really exciting to be here. This is the biggest event I’ve ever played in. I’m looking forward to it,” said Sharma, who will play the opening two rounds with Malaysia’s Gavin Green and American Chan Kim.
The son of an Indian army colonel, Sharma has burst onto the scene in quite some style. He won in South Africa with a 23-under winning total which included a 61 in the second round in December and then followed up with a second title in Malaysia after a closing 62 gave him a 21-under winning total.
“I could not have imagined this happening (three months ago). I wouldn’t have imagined myself playing on the European Tour, let alone a WGC event. That’s how the game is. When you play good, anything is possible. You need those small breaks and I got those breaks in Johannesburg and Malaysia. That shows you anything is possible. You just have to keep working hard,” said Sharma.
With full playing status in Europe and Asia, Sharma said he is learning to adapt to being in the company of the game’s marquee names and conceded he was star-struck when he teed up in Abu Dhabi and Dubai earlier this year.
“I’m getting used to it. Seeing Rory (McIlroy), Dustin (Johnson), all these guys in the Middle East, I was a bit star-struck. I’ve got to step it up and play my own game. It’s great to be playing in these events with all these great players. Up to last year, I was watching these players on TV and now playing here this week is a dream come true.”
Despite the new-found fame and heightened media interests, Sharma insisted he was still the same person. And while he has added a few more zeroes into his bank account, he flew into Mexico City from Doha, Qatar on economy class.
“Personally, nothing has changed. I’m the same person. I’m probably getting a bit more attention, getting more interviews. I think it’s great as long as it raises more awareness on golf in India. I’m still trying to be the same person, still trying to be the best that I can be,” said Sharma.
“I probably should fly business class … Maybe the flight back to India, I’ll try to fly business. I flew from Qatar to Dallas and then into Mexico. It was nice. Economy isn’t that bad. You get an aisle seat and it’s perfect,” he insisted.
Ranked 75th in the world, Sharma, who is now the highest ranked Indian in the world, knows a strong week in Mexico could open more doors into the big tournaments on the PGA TOUR. The top-64 will qualify for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play next month while the top-50 will get into the Masters Tournament in April and May’s THE PLAYERS Championship at TPC Sawgrass.
“There’s a lot at stake but at the same time, I don’t want to put pressure on myself. I’ve worked really hard to get to this level and I just want to have fun. To be honest, I know that if I play my best, it is good enough for a win or a top five or top-10. It’s about going out there and shooting some good numbers. Come Sunday, I’ll be happy if have played to my potential. I know that if I can play my best, I’ll be right up there.”