Sharma gets Lara as surprise Pro-Am partner; ready for the Desert test

Dubai, Jan 22: No sooner had he arrived in Dubai after a week in Abu Dhabi, Shubhankar Sharma had surprise waiting for him at the Pro-Am of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic.

Thee 23-year-old coming to Dubai for his third straight start at the storied event, he learnt he was paired with cricketing legend, Brian Lara for the Pro-Am. “That was a nice surprise and I loved playing with him,” said Sharma, who was T-29 with all four rounds below par last year.

“We talked on both cricket and golf, me asking about cricket and him a bit about golf. He plays very well and has a single digit handicap,” added Sharma. We got along pretty well and decided we would try and catch a round, whenever we could, in India or elsewhere. He sure was very nice and I know how big a name he is in cricket and he is a household name even in India.”

While Sharma was at the Pro-Am, Gaganjeet Bhullar, also making his third start at the event, was admiring the skyscrapers, which form a stunning backdrop to thee Emirates Golf Club. “This city always fascinate me,” said Bhullar, who had a good weekend last year  with a pair of 69s and ended T-38th.

Both Sharma and Bhullar felt scoring would be tough this time with the thicker-than-usual rough. And it was a similar view from many of the other stars, too.

Sharma said, “The premium will be hitting the ball straight and in thee fairways. So, you wont see many drivers – sure they will be there on some holes, but there will be more of 3-woods.”

Bhullar concurred, “You miss the fairways and you could be headed home early. The greens are lot smaller and fairways narrow and the rough is up.”

Sharma plays with Ryan Fox and Steven Brown at 8.10 am in the morning. Fox is one of the players to have had their birthday on Wednesday – the other being Eddie Pepperell. Bhullar goes out with Sean Crocker and Jeff Winther in the afternoon at 12.10 pm.

Jeev  Milkha Singh is the Indian with most appearances at Dubai Desert Classic with 17 starts, of which he made the cut in nine. His best was T-6 in 2001 and another good result was T-10 in 2013.

Almost all the players felt the rough would pose a problem. Defending champion Bryson DeChambeau said, “Last year, I didn’t drive it my absolute best but I was still able to get it done. It’s going to take great ball-striking, iron play, and making a lot of putts.

My wedge game is much improved I feel like and personally I’m looking forward to the new test this week; the rough is a little bit longer, so being in the fairway is going to be key, and if you have a great wedge game, you can get up-and-down and fix those mistakes you have, it’s definitely a viable option to win.”

Sergio Garcia, another past winner, said, “The course is playing a little bit different than we’ve seen it in the past. Rough is a lot thicker. Greens are probably as firm as I’ve seen them on a Tuesday and Wednesday. It is going to be a strong challenge with a little bit of wind predicted for at least Thursday and Sunday.”

Young guns, Viktor Hovland of Norway, said, “The greens are a lot firmer and faster, and the greens are a lot smaller, and the rough is probably thicker than it was last week. So it will be a little interesting.

Robert MacIntyre, the rookie of the year in 2019, did not mince any words, saying, “It’s an absolute brutal test. You’ve got to keep the ball in the fairway. If you don’t, you’ll probably be home early. There’s a lot of doglegs, not so much with trees. I hit a few good drives today that ran through the fairway, not into the deep stuff, but through the first cut into the second cut, and even then, you can’t hit anything more than 7 or 8-iron. It’s as thick of rough as I’ve played in. That rough out there, if there’s not a ball-spotter spotting the ball and you’re 300 yards away, you’re struggling to find it.”

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