Johannesburg, South Africa, 11 Dec 2017

Shubhankar Sharma registers career-defining victory at Joburg Open, becomes youngest Indian winner on European Tour

Sharma ends fairytale week with an astounding 23-under total to win by three shots

Twenty-one-year-old Indian sensation Shubhankar Sharma sent ripples across the golfing world by becoming the youngest Indian winner on the European Tour thanks to his career-defining victory at the Joburg Open on Monday.

Shubhankar (69-61-65-69), who had shot a record 10-under-61 on day two of the event, ended his fairytale week with a three-under-69 to amass an astounding 72-hole total of 23-under-264 which saw him prevail over South African Erik Van Rooyen by three shots at the Randpark Golf Club.

As a result of his sensational triumph, the Chandigarh lad also punched his ticket to the 2018 British Open which will be held at Carnoustie. The Joburg Open, co-sanctioned by the European Tour, Asian Tour and Sunshine Tour, was part of the Open Qualifying Series and thus offered berths at next year's Open Championship to the top three finishers who were not already exempt.

Sharma’s exploits at the R16.5 million (approximately US$1.2 million) event saw him pick up a winning cheque of US$191,532 as well as 17 Official World Golf Ranking Points (OWGR) that helped him skyrocket from 462nd to 226th in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Sharma, an Asian Tour regular, had led by four shots after seven holes of the final round when play was suspended on Sunday due to rain. Shubhankar, undeterred by the overnight delay, came out on Monday and struck his third birdie of the round on the ninth to consolidate his lead.

The five-time winner on the PGTI was solid through the back-nine as he made pars all the way till the end to become the fifth Indian to win on the European Tour after Arjun Atwal, Jeev Milkha Singh, SSP Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri. Incidentally, Sharma also became the youngest Indian to win on the tour breaking Lahiri’s record as the latter had won the Maybank Malaysian Open in 2015 at the age of 27.

Shubhankar’s Joburg success, the first by an Indian professional in the African continent, lifted him to an impressive second place in the European Tour’s 2018 Race to Dubai. It also propelled him to sixth in the 2017 Asian Tour Order of Merit.

An ecstatic Sharma said, “It feels fantastic. I’m glad I made the decision to come here after thinking about not coming. It has been absolutely fantastic and the people are very welcoming. I don’t think I will ever forget this week. This is my first win on the Asian Tour and the European Tour so it means a lot to me.

“On the first day there were 240 players. I was just trying to play two good rounds to make the cut and the cut was really low. I was playing well and had a great start on the second day which got things going for me. As soon as I reached -13 after two days, I thought I had a chance to win.
“The only thing I was telling myself was to stay aggressive. I never wanted to be defensive. Even when I was leading I never thought of defending my lead. I actually set a target of 25-under and I only shot a 23-under (laughs).
“After yesterday’s rain delay I was walking back to the clubhouse and I saw Erik (van Rooyen) had just hit it to two feet so that was a birdie and it would narrow the gap to three shots. In golf, three shots is nothing. We’ve seen people drop shots. I just imagined that there was an invisible guy playing in my group and he was on 25-under. I was just trying to catch that invisible guy. I didn’t quite catch him but I’m happy that I won.
“I would love to play in the South African Open and meet Ernie Els. I met him in Macao two years back. He is such a wonderful guy, not only in South Africa but in world golf.”

The victory was even more special for the talented Indian as he won in the country of his golfing idol Ernie Els, who he met as an 11-year-old boy at the Delhi Golf Club in 2007.
Sharma caught the attention of Els at a golf clinic and after watching him hit a seven iron, the ‘Big Easy’ gave him an autographed business card and said, “Well when you grow up, I’ll be your agent.”

Reflecting on his first meeting with Els, Shubhankar, the son of an Army officer, said, “What happened to me in 2007 obviously changed everything for me. I was so happy and I framed the card. It just shows that small things from great players like him go a long way. I was only an 11-year-old boy back then.
“There were a lot of nerves. I got up like four times. I couldn’t sleep because it was raining so hard and I kept getting up. You have nothing to lose if you are chasing someone. It is very tough to maintain your lead. You just need to look at the bigger picture. If you played so well for three days, there’s no reason why you won’t play well in the final round. There were a few nervy moments but I’m glad I pulled through.
“Playing in The Open is everyone’s dream. Personally it is my favourite Major championship. I’ve watched it every year on television and to be playing in it next year is absolutely fantastic.”

Sharma’s Joburg Open win highlighted a highly successful season for Indians on the Asian Tour. It was the sixth win by an Indian on the Asian Tour this year and Sharma became the fifth Indian golfer to win on the tour during the current season.

The Indians who have won titles on the Asian Tour previously this year include Shiv Kapur (two wins), SSP Chawrasia, Gaganjeet Bhullar and Ajeetesh Sandhu.

Interestingly, at the age of 21 years and 143 days, Sharma is also the second youngest Indian golfer to win a first Asian Tour title after Gaganjeet Bhullar (21 years and 90 days). Bhullar set the record when he won the Indonesia President Invitational in 2009.
One must add that Shubhankar continues to be the youngest Indian professional to win on the PGTI. He achieved the feat at age 17 when he won in Kochi in 2017.
Commenting on Shubhankar's achievement, Mr. Uttam Singh Mundy, CEO, PGTI, said, "Shubhankar has made India proud with his win at the Joburg Open. We at the PGTI congratulate him for his outstanding achievement. Shubhankar's rise on the international stage bears testament to the steady growth of Indian professional golf and the PGTI in recent years."

About PGTI:

Formed in 2006, Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) is the recognised official body of professional golf in India. PGTI's objective is to promote professional golf in the country, as well as to give players an opportunity to be involved in the decision making on all aspects of the game. Headed by Mr. Gautam Thapar (President), PGTI's governing body comprises leading Indian golf professionals. PGTI currently has over 300 members.

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