Johannesburg, South Africa: Shubhankar Sharma won the Joburg Open in sensational style and, in so doing, punched his ticket to The Open in 2018.
The 21-year-old Indian closed with a three-under-par 69 and was bogey-free in the final 54 holes as he ended his first tournament in South Africa with a winning total of 23-under 264 at the Randpark Golf Club.
Sharma defeated home favourite Erik van Rooyen (66) by three shots while two-time Asian Tour winner Shaun Norris (65) of South Africa and Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland settled for third place at the event sanctioned by the Asian Tour, European Tour and Sunshine Tour.
Van Rooyen booked a spot at Carnoustie and he will be joined by countryman Norris who earned his second appearance at The Open after being ranked higher than Pulkkanen on the Official World Golf Ranking.
Sharma showed no ill-effects from the overnight delay when he returned to birdie the ninth hole before parring his way home for a 69 to become the first Asian and Indian golfer to win the R16.5 million (about US$1.2 million) event.
The victory was even more special for Sharma as it occurred in the country of his golfing idol Ernie Els, who he met as an 11-year-old boy at the Delhi Golf Club in 2007.
Sharma caught the attention of Els at a golf clinic. After watching him hit a seven-iron, the ‘Big Easy’ gave him an autographed business card and said: “When you grow up, I’ll be your agent.”
Sharma said: “It feels fantastic. I’m glad I made the decision to come here after thinking about not coming. It has been absolutely fantastic and the people are very welcoming. I don’t think I will ever forget this week. This is my first win on the Asian Tour and the European Tour so it means a lot to me.
“On the first day there were 240 players. I was just trying to play two good rounds to make the cut and the cut was really low. I was playing well and had a great start on the second day which got things going for me. As soon as I reached minus 13 after two days, I thought I had a chance to win.”
At the age of 21 years and 143 days, Sharma is the second youngest Indian golfer to win a first Asian Tour title after Gaganjeet Bhullar (21 years and 90 days).
Tokyo, Japan: The Professional Golfers’ Association of Japan, one of Asia’s eldest and most respected sporting organisations, has joined the Asian Golf Industry Federation.