India’s Shubhankar Sharma made it look all terribly simple as he eased his way to a three-stroke victory on Monday in the Joburg Open, co-sanctioned by the Sunshine Tour, the European Tour and Asian Tour.
He carded a final-round three-under-par 69 on the Firethorn course at Randpark Golf Club as the players returned to complete the final round which was postponed after the previous day’s thunderstorms. That gave him a comfortable buffer over runner-up Erik van Rooyen, who, in turn, had a three-stroke margin over South African Shaun Norris and Finland’s Tapio Pulkannen.
“Mentally, I was really calm,” said the 21-year-old Sharma, who carried himself like a veteran in trying conditions. “Obviously, I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke up like three times. It was raining so hard, it kept hitting the window and I kept waking up. But I’m so happy that it’s finished now and I won. And, now, I will go back home and celebrate with my family.”
He has another reason to celebrate: The Joburg Open is part of The Open Championship Qualifying Series, and the top three players inside the top 10 not otherwise qualified all played their way into next year’s event at Carnoustie in July.
Van Rooyen and Norris will join him there.
“The Open Championship is my favourite major,” said Sharma as he stood next to the venerable Claret Jug. “It’s the one I watch on television, and to think that I’m going to be playing in it next year is fantastic. Just to think that I have a chance to be associated with the names that are on the Claret Jug is very exciting.”
Sharma restarted his round on the ninth tee, and his birdie ahead of the turn gave him enough of an edge over Van Rooyen to keep his nose well in front until the end.
“I wanted to make one birdie before the turn and I made that,” he said. “And then, I think the back nine was fairly good, I made a few key up-and-downs.”
Keeping out of trouble was certainly key to his success. He made three bogeys in his opening round on Thursday, with his last coming on the 17th. After that, he never made another drop all week, with his second-round 10-under-par 61 catapulting him into contention and setting up his victory.
“I made three bogeys on the first day and after that I didn’t make a bogey,” he said. “That’s good golf right there. If you don’t make bogeys, and I was making few birdies as well. I think that was the best part.”
Van Rooyen tried valiantly to chase down Sharma, but a battling two-under 70 in the third round, and missed opportunities on two of the par-fives in the final round ultimately cost him. “I don’t think anyone wants to finish second,” he said. “Look, Sharma played some incredible golf so hats off to him. He did really, really well. I tried to put some pressure on him but couldn’t quite get it going on the back nine the way I would have liked but all credit to him because he played some fantastic golf.”
For Sharma, it is all about recalibrating his career expectations now. “It’s absolutely fantastic that I have status on these three tours now,” he said. “The Asian Tour, being my own tour, gave me an opportunity to come and play here, and I’m very happy that I could get my title for the European Tour. I can’t wait to play all the big events and I’m really looking forward to it.”
He’ll be playing January’s BMW SA Open Championship proudly hosted by the City of Ekurhuleni.
Credit: Sunshine Tour