India's Sharma savours rare Masters invite

Sharma competing in the World Golf Championship in Mexico City, on March 3, 2018.
Sharma competing in the World Golf Championship in Mexico City, on March 3, 2018.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Young golfing sensation Shubhankar Sharma said on Wednesday (March 7) it was a "dream" to be invited to next month's US Masters, just the fourth Indian to ever make the elite tournament.

Sharma, 21, burnished his rising star credentials with wins at the European Tour's Joburg Open in December and Maybank Championship this February.

Last week he entered the final round of the WGC-Mexico in the lead, only to fade as American great Phil Mickelson claimed the title, but earning respect as an up-and-comer to watch.

Sharma - who will be the youngest Indian to enter the Masters since Anirban Lahiri - finished tied ninth at the high-profile PGA tour event in Mexico.

"I wasn't happy with the way I finished the tournament but when I got the call for the Masters all the pain got washed away," Sharma told reporters Wednesday.

"It is every golfer's dream to get to the Masters." With his US Masters invite, Sharma follows in the footsteps of Indian golfers Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal and Lahiri.

Only the best 50 golfers in the world automatically make it to the Masters, and fewer still from outside that group earn an invitation to the prestigious US fixture.

"Shubhankar Sharma is a remarkable young player," said Fred Ridley, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club on Tuesday.

Sharma has also booked a berth in the British Open after the Johannesburg win and has his sights set on more.

"Masters just has the same feel to it like Wimbledon is to tennis," he said.

"It's a dream come true that I am into both the Majors and hopefully I get into the US Open and the PGA as well."

From a relatively unknown golfer ranked outside 500, Sharma has had a stellar rise since November and is now ranked 66th.

"I think in golf anything is possible if you have four good days," he said.

"Now that I have won at a high stage and competed with the best at the WGC... I know my best would be good enough for a top five or even a win and that gives you a lot of confidence."

Sharma comes into this week's Indian Open - a tournament co-sanctioned by the Asian and European tours - as a hot favourite, and said he knew what it takes to be a world-class player.

"I am very thankful that at such a young age I have that much of experience behind me and I think that is going to serve me well going forward," he said.