Talented Indian prospect Shubhankar Sharma held his head high after finishing tied ninth in his debut at the World Golf Championships-Mexico Championship on Sunday.
After surprising the star-studded field when he led by two shots after day two and three at the Club de Golf Chapultepec, the 21-year-old, who was the youngest competitor in the field, signed off with a 3-over 74, finishing six shots behind winner Phil Mickelson, who triumphed over reigning FedExCup champion Justin Thomas in a playoff.
It was not to be a dream finish for the highly impressive Indian, who stayed in title contention on the back nine of an enthralling Sunday afternoon before his hopes unraveled with four bogeys over his closing six holes.
While disappointed, Sharma, who has won twice on the European Tour and Asian Tour since last December, only looked at the positives as he proved he belonged amongst the world’s elite in Mexico.
“A little bit disappointed, I was leading and I think I couldn’t finish it off today. But that’s what the game is about. And what I learned, especially playing with Phil, I’ll cherish it forever,” said Sharma.
Veteran star Mickelson, who picked up his third World Golf Championships victory and 43rd PGA TOUR title, had mistaken Sharma as a journalist when the young Indian approached him at the practice putting green on Saturday. After playing together in the final round in front of a large gallery, the five-time major champion will certainly remember the Indian now and took time to pay credit to Sharma.
“I saw how well he struck the golf ball. He hit a beautiful tee shot on 1, you can tell he can really play. I saw some of the putts, some of the highlights with the putter. I know he’s a very talented player and I believe he’s leading the Order of Merit on the European Tour, so I know what a great player Mr. Sharma is. I probably shouldn’t say that, he’s 26 years younger than me!,” said Mickelson, who closed with a 66 and pipped Thomas with a par on the first extra hole at the par three 17thhole.
Sharma’s solid showing in Mexico pushed him further up on the latest Official World Golf Ranking as he jumped from 75th to 66th position. He was ranked 521st just last November. His rise will enhance his chances of qualifying for the next World Golf Championships event later this month, the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, which is exclusive to the top-64 golfers.
Sharma rued his luck on the tricky putting greens at Chapultepec. “I just felt like nothing went in. Maybe my speed was wrong, something was off. Even on nine, I hit it in the middle of the hole it lipped out again. I never felt like I could get the speed right or maybe the line, it just wasn’t going in, it wasn’t my day,” he said.
He believes he will learn greatly from the experience of playing alongside Mickelson. “If you would have asked me four months ago that I would be playing with Phil at a WGC on the last day, I would have just laughed,” said Sharma.
“Just playing with him has been fantastic. He’s obviously a great man, showed me a few great shots. He’s not afraid to go out there and get it out there and hit it at the pin, and he took some crazy clubs off the tee but that’s what Phil is all about. I’ll never forget it. Especially on 16 where he made birdie, it was the loudest roar I ever heard in life. It was fantastic,” said Sharma.
FINAL ROUND INTERVIEW
March 4, 2018
What can you take away from a difficult week?
GAVIN GREEN: It was just a rough week. I didn’t hit it very good off the tee obviously punishes me on this kind of course. There’s a first time for everything and a (inaudible) for me. I just wasn’t comfortable off the tee this whole week. It’s just something that I’ve got to get used to and practice a little harder.
When you face a situation like that knowing that you’re not on top of your game and you try to fix it as the week goes on, how challenging is it —
GAVIN GREEN: It’s tough because you want it to work so hard because it’s such a big event, but at the same time you can’t force it. Right now I just had a little bump, that’s okay. It’s part of golf, I guess.
Looking at Shubhankar doing great for three days, Kiradech’s right up there. You guys do belong on this stage right?
GAVIN GREEN: For sure, yeah. I just think there’s some — obviously Kiradech, he has so much experience now and it’s good that he does well. And Sharma, it’s amazing to see him leading a WGC event. It’s such a great thing. He’s one of my really close friends on tour and it’s fun to see. Obviously I wish I would have done a lot better, I’m very disappointed in myself. Obviously it’s a bit of a, how do you say this, kind of taking it a bit hard because it was such an opportunity to do well. But it is what it is and only way I’m going to learn is — the only way to improve is I’ll have to learn from it.
Looking forward to India?
GAVIN GREEN: Yeah, I’m excited about India. I’m not excited about the long flight, but I’m still going to go out there and give it my best shot.