Shubhankar hopes different approach gives better results

Shubhankar Sharma is playing a golf tournament that is so dear to his heart that his performance dictates the mood of his birthday celebrations. The sole Indian in the 156-man field absolutely loves the Open Championship, and turns 27 on Friday when the second round is played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake. Nothing would make him happier than being in contention going into the weekend of the oldest tournament in the world.

The Indian golfer finished tied 51st in both his previous Open Championships. (Getty Images)

“It’s my third Open, and I feel very, very grateful,” said the world No276. “The Open is my favourite major and has always been just with how the tournament was telecast in India and also with the TV timings (much earlier than late-night finish in the major championships in the US). It was perfect for me to come back after school and watch it. And just for the history of The Open, it being the oldest tournament in golf. Really looking forward to it.

“It also falls on my birthday week. I guess that is also one of the reasons why I like it even more. Even when I was a kid, The Open used to be a double celebration. Last time I played the Open at Royal Portrush, it was on a Sunday, and on a Friday in Carnoustie. This is a tournament that has always given me good vibes.”

Sharma finished tied 51st in both his previous Open Championships and is hoping to better that result with a different approach this year. He came down to the golf course three weeks ago and played three reconnaissance rounds in the company of his long-time coach Jesse Grewal.

“This is the first time I have done something like this. I feel like the first two times I played, in 2018 and 2019, I was really young and I was trying to play wherever I could at that time,” said Sharma, who will be featuring in his sixth major championship.

“It’s four years down the line. I’m slightly more mature…at least I’d like to think that… and not playing as many tournaments as I used to. So, we decided at the start of the year that we will go and play some practice rounds. I took a week off and came here for three full days and just really enjoyed the golf course and learned a lot about how it plays.”

Sharma started the year in brilliant fashion with a tied seventh place at Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, but has missed nine cuts in 15 starts since then.

“I’m playing well. And I’ve been telling my coach and my dad that I’ve been playing really well. There were a few technical issues maybe a month ago that I was trying to figure out with the swing. Last week, I felt really good with it in the first round of the Scottish Open and grinded out a two-under par. The second day also wasn’t bad, but we were on the tougher side of the draw and I just didn’t make any putts. I hit the ball really well, and I drove it really nicely, which was a big positive.

“Having practiced here with my coach, I felt really familiar when I came here on Monday. It also kind of helps because once I’ve seen the course, I don’t feel like I need to do a lot during the tournament week. All my prep has been on the short game.”

Sharma, who qualified for the Open this year by virtue of finishing inside the top-30 of the DP World Tour’s 2022 Race to Dubai, realises it’s going to be a big week for how his season shapes up.

“A good show here would mean a lot. I think The Open just stands out from the rest of the season. Not to put any pressure, it’s just that it’s an amazing feeling playing a major. I just want to go out there and have fun, obviously, a great result would be very appreciated with my whole family being here and cheering me as well,” said Sharma.

“As I said, I feel like I’m playing well. I just need to go and manage myself the way I have done in the past in the Opens that I played well. All the aspects of the game are firing really well. And I’m pretty confident about a good result.”

Sharma has been paired with Finland’s Kalle Samooja and American Gunner Wiebe on the first two days and starts his campaign on Thursday at 8:04pm IST.

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