HONG KONG – After a spectacular ascent over the last 12 months, European Tour rookie of the year Shubhankar Sharma is in no doubt he will become the first Indian to win a major - but he's not going to rush it.
The 22-year-old burst onto the scene with wins at the Joburg Open and Maybank Championship on the European Tour last season, and at Carnoustie in July he became the youngest Indian to make the cut at any major.
He also looks set to win this year's Asian Tour Order of Merit, holding a sizeable lead over his nearest rival, Korea's Park Sang-Hyun, with just a handful of tournaments remaining.
“It has been a crazy year,” he said Thursday, after battling through the cold morning wind to go one under par at the first round of the Hong Kong Open - where he began his astonishing ascent with a top-10 finish in 2017.
But at the same time, the mild-mannered Sharma is “not very surprised” at what he has achieved since he was last at Fanling.
“Maybe a little bit, just a little bit,” he said. ”I always believed in myself, that I could get to this stage. I always had the belief that I could do it.”
Asked whether he could be India's first major winner, his answer is much less hesitant.
“Yes. That's why you play golf. You have to dream big. Now definitely I feel I can compete with the best out there... I definitely see myself playing well in majors in the future.”
The steep learning curve of life on the European Tour has taught him that progress is about “just grinding every day that you go out there,” and given him lessons in taking the rough with the smooth.
I think golf is a great leveller,” he says. “It never really lets you get too high.”
Even the Asian Order of Merit title, which is well within his grasp, is not taken for granted.
“I still have to play well for that. There's still three, four events left.”
And for now, Sharma is focusing on Hong Kong, hoping that a tight, often high-scoring course and “lots of players in the mix” might throw up a chance to improve on his tied-10th finish last year.
Three shots ahead after round one was Sharma's countryman Arjun Atwal, whom he grew up watching on TV.
Sharma knows growing numbers of young Indians are now following his exploits -- but he is determined not to get ahead of himself.
“Just keep working hard, believe in yourself,” he says, softly but firmly. “That's what I did.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)