Shubhankar Sharma … all set for 2023 at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links. Pic: V Krishnaswamy
Abu Dhabi, Jan 18: Shubhankar Sharma at 26 is already feeling like a veteran as he begins his 11th year as a professional at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championships on Thursday. Entering the paid ranks at 16, he rose very fast. By 2018 he was on the DP World Tour and had two wins in matter of four starts around the turn of 2017-18.
On Thursday he starts his first round with Finland’s Tapio Pulkkanen and Englishman Matthew Southgate at 7.30 am from first tee, while Belgian Thomas Pieters targeting back-to-back wins at the immaculate Yas Links on Yas Island is paired with two other past champions Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood and they also go out at 7.30 am, but from the 10th tee.
He will also try and prove once again that nice guys do win. In his years on DP World he has earned praise not only his game but also his great demeanour.
Pieters, the defending champion, said, “Shubhankar, he’s one of the nicest kids I’ve ever met. His dad, as well. Always saying thank you, please. He is very well brought up. He’s just a really nice kid. He’s well-mannered. There’s nothing to dislike about him.”
On Sharma’s game, Pieters added, “He’s got a very good golf game obviously. I think he hits really good stretches where he putts it well and drives it well, and then he goes off and has a couple months or half-year that he doesn’t really perform. But that’s golf and that’s just a part of growing up and dealing with those kind of stretches. Everybody has them.”
Sharma has kept his card since but not been able to convert close finishes into wins. Two of those excellent performances came in 2022, one a runner-up finish at this very tournament and at the same Yas Links; then there was a third place at the Nedbank Challenge, the penultimate event of 2022.
Sharma, recalling 2022, said, “I had a great start and then it was a lull in the middle for various reasons – some club issues, a niggle in the back and then Covid. There were Top-15s in Kenya, Dutch Open and Singapore, but towards the finish was strong with third place in Nedbank in South Africa. At the DP World Tour Championships I did just enough finishing in mid 40s but that helped me finish the year in Top-30 on the DP World and secure a place for the 2023 (British) Open. So, I would call the year a mixed bag.”
Sharma, who has played at Abu Dhabi every year since he came on the Tour fully in 2018, loves the place. “It is a great place. Great places to go to and see. I went to the Ferrari World (across the Yas Links) here and I have great memories from the tournament last year. The elite Rolex series events in Abu Dhabi and Dubai are a great way to start the year.”
“I played with Viktor Hovland and Rafa Cabrera Bello last year on final and ahead were Shane Lowry and Thomas Pieters. It was really close. A late bogey cost me a chance to get into a play-off.”
Sharma was all praise for the Yas Links, which as the name suggests is an attempt to create links-like conditions. “This course is so well set up. The fairways are like carpets and they have a great roll. And the greens are so good. It is probably the best we play on the Tour.”
Séamus Power makes his tournament debut following his appearance in last week’s Hero Cup. The Irishman also won his second PGA TOUR title at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship in October last year and currently leads the FedExCup Standings.
There are 19 members from last week’s Hero Cup teams, including the 2021 winner Tyrrell Hatton, as well as Ryder Cup Captain Luke Donald and his Vice Captains Thomas Bjørn, Nicolas Colsaerts and Edoardo Molinari.
Pieters asked if his win gave him some great memories to start with, smiled, and said, “They definitely remind me that I’ve won here. My face is on every building. I’ve never had that before. It’s such a strange feeling. But playing the back nine yesterday was kind of special. It was my first Rolex Series, and to kind of relive those shots with my caddie yesterday was, I’m not going to say emotional but was very special.
“It’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. The grass is so consistent, so tight. You’ll see some amazing short game this week I think.”