Shubhankar Sharma’s debut on the PGA Tour is becoming quite memorable. The 21-year-old phenom from India leads the WGC-Mexico Championship by two strokes heading into the final round. The youngest player at the tournament will be paired with one of the oldest, Phil Mickelson, in the final round on Sunday.
“Obviously a dream come true for me to be playing in this tournament and obviously leading, that’s just fantastic,” Sharma told the Golf Channel after his third-round performance.
At 5-foot-9, he’s not an imposing figure on the course, but his calm demeanor is a big reason for his success. If Sharma is able to hold onto his lead in the final round of the WGC-Mexico Championship he will cap off one of the more improbable upsets in PGA Tour history.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Sharma Has 8 Professional Wins on His Resume
Just three months ago, he had yet to win a tournament outside of India’s developmental circuit. That changed in December 2017 at the Joburg Open when Sharma by three strokes. Two months later, in February 2018, Sharma struck gold again, winning the Maybank Championship by two strokes. Entering the WGC-Mexico Championship, Sharma is No. 75 in the official World Golf Rankings. According to the Asian Tour standings, Sharma has earned $500,000 so far this season.
It’s a meteoric rise for Sharma, who was ranked 202nd at the end of the 2017 season and spent the beginning of his career wallowing in relative obscurity on the Asian Tour. He is now the highest-ranked player from India, passing Ariban Lahiri. “The last two months have changed my life,” Sharma told Gulf News. The victory in the Joburg Open helped Sharma earn his European Tour pro card, allowing him to compete in more high profile events in the future.
2. He Isn’t Getting Recognized Yet by The Big Name Golfers
Before the third round of the WGC-Mexico Championship, Sharma walked up to one of his childhood idols, Phil Mickelson, on the practice green, but Phil thought he was a member of the media. “Not right now, after the round,” Phil said to Sharma, who laughed it off. “Then he just realized and said, ‘So sorry, I thought you were media.’ He said ‘hi.’ I said ‘hi.’ Then he made a few putts and he came back to me and said, ‘Have a good day.’ It was nice.”
Other players have started to take notice of Sharma’s game. “I don’t know, other than he’s young. He’s like 21, right? Man kids,” 24-year-old Justin Thomas told Golf Channel. Even golfers who play on the European Tour with Sharma are still unfamiliar with his rise up the rankings. “Relatively new,” Rafa Cabrera Bello told Golf Channel. “I haven’t really watched him play. I’m sure he’s a very talented player, but I haven’t had the opportunity to watch him play or play alongside him.”
3. Sharma is From Chandigarh, India and Started Playing Golf at Age 7
It’s the same hometown as four-time European Tour winner Jeev Milkha Singh. Sharma picked up his first club at a relatively young age, beginning his journey with golf at the age of seven. “He started at seven and hasn’t put the club down after that, he got hooked and married to the game, his temperament is in sync, he’s calm, composed, humble and down to earth, and thinks golf is bigger than him, therefore he is always improving,” Shubhankar’s father Mohan Lal told Gulf News.
The next step for Sharma is to compete and win a major championship. Something a player from India has never done. “I don’t see why me, or any other Indian, can’t win a Major,” Lal told Gulf News. “With so many coming through and contending, I think once we have confidence and more star players, I don’t see why we can’t see an Indian Major champion in 7-10 years.”
4. He Turned Pro At Age 16
Sharma’s Asian Tour bio states his first professional event on the Asian tour was back in 2014 when he finished 4th at the Panasonic Open in India. His next top 10 finish wasn’t until a year later, when he again finished fourth at the Panasonic Open. In 2016, Sharma continued to have success, finishing third at the Bashundhara Bangladesh Open and fourth at the Resorts World Manila Masters.
Finally in 2017, after several top 10 finishes, Sharma broke through, winning his first professional event at the Joburg Open. Three months after winning that first event, Sharma is on the verge of another major breakthrough, holding the 54-hole lead in his first PGA event.
“I made a few mistakes on the greens but the greens are tough this week so I think everyone’s making a few mistakes. I wasn’t too hard on myself. Very happy that I could grind out a par on the last hole,” Sharma told Golf Channel after round three of the WGC-Mexico Championship.
5. Sharma’s Father Was A Member of The Indian Army
His dad is a former Colonel in the Indian Army. According to Gulf News, Mohan Lal quit the armed forces six years ago to help his son pursue golf, thanks to the help of an army colleague, Tusha Lahiri, who is the father of two-time European Tour winner Anirban Lahiri.
Both Tusha Lahiri and Mohan Lal were stationed together. In fact, Tusha was the doctor who delivered Sharma’s younger sister. GolfDigest.com reports: “In getting to know the family, Dr. Lahiri told Col. Sharma to take his son to the golf course. No one in Sharma’s family had ever played golf, but seven-year-old Sharma took to the game quickly, and now here he is, not at all looking like an inexperienced young European Tour player, leading in Mexico. Mohan Lal has very high hopes for his son. “He will be world No. 1 one day,” he told Gulf News.