'Mickelson thought we were fans who had jumped the rope – he quickly apologised'
Normally when you ask someone how they got into the game they trot out something about a family member who gave them a cut-down club. And so on and so forth…
Shubhankar Sharma only took up golf thanks to fellow two-time winner on the European Tour Anirban Lahiri’s obstetrician father, Tushar. It was he who suggested to Sharma’s own dad to bring him to the course one day, that was when Shubhankar was seven years old, 15 years later he was playing in all four majors.
Sharma hit the really big time in Mexico last year, first with his stellar play leading after both the second and third rounds, and then for his hilarious exchange with the eventual Phil Mickelson on the Saturday.
We sat down with him in Abu Dhabi as he prepared for a second season on the European Tour to talk Mickelson, meditation and Sachin Tendulkar.
You were on Twitter recently having an exchange with Sachin Tendulkar trying to arrange a round together, have you sorted that out yet?
Not yet but it was nice of him and pretty cool to, obviously he’s a pretty big thing in India!
He’s definitely the biggest sportsman India has ever had and had the most impact. In 2013 he was awarded highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, and he’s still the only sportsman to receive that in India.
Were you a batsman or bowler?
More of a bowler though I batted a bit. Everyone played cricket growing up, I did until I was 12 or 13 and then I got into golf properly.
How much golf would you follow on TV growing up in India?
They showed all the majors on TV, my earliest memory would have been when Zach Johnson won The Masters in 2007 and he laid up on all the par 5s, his wedge play was amazing.
My favourite major has always been The Open as it was on at the right time from noon until 10pm, the other majors would start at midnight and through the night.
Nobody played golf in our family and my dad and I started on the same day thanks to Anirban’s dad, I was just happy to play.
You’ve had an exceptional past 18 months, which players have been the highlights to play with?
Sergio Garcia was great, we played in the Match Play and then Carnoustie, and we had a threeball with Bryson DeChambeau who I had played with before.
I also had a practice round with Francesco Molinari at Carnoustie and I remember telling my dad how well he was playing.
At The Masters I played with Larry Mize, he had such lovely, soft hands around the greens and was a pleasure to play with. That was definitely one of my favourite experiences and I learnt such a lot watching that.
But Phil Mickelson in Mexico would be the most nervous I was as it was in March and I wasn’t yet ready to these big tournaments.
So what happened on the putting green?
I didn’t think it would be that big, I had just finished my third round and was in the media room and it was getting really boring so I thought I would tell them a story. Then I saw on Twitter and Facebook all these comments.
I was on the putting green on the Saturday and had about an hour and a half until I teed off and Phil was doing his putting drills before teeing off. My friend was on my bag and he was wearing the Sun Devil hat as he had been to Arizona State and Phil had been there so he said let’s go and say hi.
He said “Hi Mr Mickelson” and I said hi and he just looked at me and said “Not right now. We’ll do it after the round.”
He thought we were media or fans who had jumped the rope. It was so funny. We just moved away and started hitting a few putts and he came over straightaway and apologised and said well played and good luck for the rest of the week and then we ended up playing together on the Sunday. There was nothing offensive about it at all.
Have you spoken since?
I met him at the Scottish, we haven’t spoken about Mexico since but he’s always been very nice to me since. He’s a true gentleman and is good to play with.
You’ve spoken about how meditation has helped your game, how did that come about?
I’ve always done it, my mum is very religious and taught it to my sister and I as kids. So I had done it before before golf, going to the temple as part of our daily routine. So for maybe 15 minutes a day, offering prayers, reciting mantras and the normal religious stuff that we were taught and then I would do more breathing exercises.
How often do you lose your cool on the course?
It does happen once in a while and that’s only normal but I try and compose my emotions as much as possible. I’m generally pretty straight-faced and don’t show many emotions, the odd bit here and there, the odd fist pump but generally I’m very calm.
Are you quite comfortable going low, you shot a 61 en route to winning the Joburg open and then the 62 on Sunday to win in Malaysia?
I am pretty comfortable, yes. In 2016 I had three events left on the Asian Tour and I needed about $45,000 to keep my card. There was one big event with $1m and two at $300,000 and I shot a 10-under 62 on the last day to finish fourth and keep my card in the big one. I’d always had five or six-under rounds but since then I’ve been more comfortable with really low rounds.
You’ve picked a good sport to get into with a level disposition?
By accident yes, golf demands that you’re very calm on the course. I truly believe you’re the same person on and off the course so sometimes you have to spend time with yourself and understand how the mind behaves in certain situations. I’m pretty sure Tiger does it a lot.
Have you met Tiger yet?
I did last year in the Bridgestone. I saw him at The Open and Memorial but I never had time to say hello and I was a bit tense and he’s always surrounded by people. He was hitting balls behind me on the second day at Carnoustie and I got my caddie to get a few more balls so I could hang around a bit longer.
What was it like playing in your national Open in 2015 when you were still a teenager?
That was pretty amazing. I would always watch Jeev Milkha Singh, who was my idol growing up and we now live in the same town, and Jyoti Randhawa and later on Anirban because of the family connection.
I had turned pro two years earlier at 16 and Delhi is very narrow but I played decent and finished inside the top 20.
Will this year be a bit more settled, you must have played an awful lot in 2018?
Yes I played maybe 33-34 weeks but across three tours so there was a lot of travel. I learnt a lot and I look back on it with a lot of pride in playing all the majors and WGCs.
I’d love to play in America and hopefully I’ll improve my world ranking enough to get in all the majors but the European Tour is my main focus.