Sentosa, Singapore: Another week, another top-10 and more ringing endorsements for talented Indian prospect Shubhankar Sharma.
Only 20, Shubhankar continued to make others sit up and take notice of his prodigious talents following a tied ninth outing at the just-concluded US$3 million Maybank Championship in Malaysia.
A third straight top-10 of the year, which proceeded a tied 11th finish in the season-opening leg in Singapore, has now pushed him up to fifth place on the latest Asian Tour’s Order of Merit with US$102,756, locking up his card nice and early for next year.
Countryman Anirban Lahiri, who played alongside Sharma on Sunday, is convinced India and Asia have unearthed another top golfer capable of winning tournaments anywhere around the world.
“It was fantastic playing with Shubhankar. I’ve watched him go through the ranks over the last few years with flying colours,” said Lahiri, who finished tied seventh, one shot ahead of his younger compatriot in Malaysia.
“To see him play as consistently and as tenaciously, today (Sunday) was an example of that. He didn’t get off to a good start but he came back strong (with three closing birdies). It’s really a good sign for Indian golf to see him and Chikkaranggapa S. coming up.
“I don’t think I’m the old generation yet - I’ve yet to hit 30 - but to see the next generation coming up and playing well is just fantastic,” added the 2015 Asian Tour number one, whose ties with Sharma goes beyond golf as Lahiri’s father helped deliver Sharma’s younger sister some years ago.
Sharma’s name first came to light when he finished fourth as a 17-year-old at the Panasonic Open India in 2014, a result he repeated in the following year. Last season, his game continued to blossom with a third place finish in Bangladesh and an equal fourth in the Philippines, highlighted by a stunning closing round of 10-under-par 62, sealing his full playing rights for 2017.
Sharma believes he is slowly finding his feet in the professional game. He said: “I’ve got more confidence than the last few years. It’s starting to feel like I belong here and I’m starting to play better. I’m making a lot of birdies which is the best part. I’m dropping a lot of shots but I’m telling myself and backing myself that I can make birdies.
“I played for the first time in a competition with Anirban so that was great. Even though I dropped a few shots, he kept telling me to keep playing the way I am. It’s great to play with someone who’s a great inspiration to a lot of us. It was a great way to finish my tournament.”
Four events into the new Asian Tour season, Sharma has shot the most number of birdies with 77, averaging 4.81 birdies per round. He knows though he must cut down on the bogeys if he is to come through for a first Asian Tour victory.
“I need to drop fewer shots. I made a few mental errors. Today on 10, I hit a bad second shot from the middle of the fairway and made double bogey which you can’t really do. That’s one thing I have to work on. Other than that, I’m in a good mental frame of mind,” he said.
India’s Arjun Atwal, a former Asian Tour number one, believes Sharma will go on to establish himself. “This kid is definitely the real deal…” Atwal tweeted on Sunday.
American David Lipsky, the 2014 Order of Merit champion, jumped to top spot on the latest ranking after finishing second in the Maybank Championship, replacing previous leader Prayad Marksaeng of Thailand.
The Asian Tour heads to Australia for the AUD$1.75 million ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth this week which is tri-sanctioned with the European Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia.
Asian Tour Order of Merit – Top-20
Pos Player Order of Merit (US$)
1. David LIPSKY (USA) 333,330
2. Prayad MARKSAENG (THA) 182,362
3. Todd SINNOTT (AUS) 151,600
4. Carlos PIGEM (ESP) 103,800
5. Shubhankar SHARMA (IND) 102,756
6. Phachara KHONGWATMAI (THA) 102,590
7. Panuphol PITTAYARAT (THA) 90,018
8. Anirban LAHIRI (IND) 82,500
9. Juvic PAGUNSAN (PHI) 69,905
10. Jbe KRUGER (RSA) 69,090
11. Younghan SONG (KOR) 66,000
12. K.T. KIM (KOR) 65,650
13. Jazz JANEWATTANANOND (THA) 54,000
14. Shiv KAPUR (IND) 52,320
15. Johannes VEERMAN (USA) 50,625
16. Siddikur RAHMAN (BAN) 50,400
17. Rashid KHAN (IND) 48,015
18. Gaganjeet BHULLAR (IND) 44,750
19. Ben LEONG (MAS) 43,575
19. Thongchai JAIDEE (THA) 43,575