Kiradech and Sharma fly Asian Tour flag at Masters Tournament

Thu 05 Apr 2018

Kiradech and Sharma fly Asian Tour flag at Masters Tournament


By V Krishnaswamy 

Augusta, April 5: Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shubhankar Sharma will fly the Asian Tour flag as the Masters Tournament gets underway on Thursday in Augusta. 

Kiradech has been in excellent form since the second half of the 2017 season which saw him break into the top-50 on the Official World Golf Ranking. After a sensational start to the 2018 season where he won on the Asian Tour and Asian Development Tour (ADT), the popular Thai is now ranked 30th in the world.

Sharma, who has won twice since December last year, will make his Major debut this week after accepting an invitation to play at the Masters Tournament.

He shot into stardom following his win at the Joburg Open in South Africa in December and Maybank Championship in February. He also earned praise for his battling spirit at the WGC-Mexico Championship where he led in the second and third rounds before finishing in tied ninth place.

Jeev Milkha Singh, a two-time Asian Tour number one, was the first and only Indian before Sharma to receive an invitation to play in the Masters Tournament in 2008.

Sharma has been paired with Augustan Larry Mize, the 1987 Masters winner and another Georgian, Russell Henley for the first two days, while Kiradech goes out with Pat Perez and Italian Francesco Molinari.

As he strode to play the course on Tuesday, Sharma seemed to have gotten over his initial awe of the Masters and the excitement of driving down the Magnolia Lane.

“This course suits my eye and I love it. I want to come here again and again. I definitely feel I can win it. I always dreamed of playing here, but to be honest I was very surprised when I got the invitation and I always wanted to get here, but just to get here so early is truly, truly a dream come true,” said Sharma.

Sharma also knows a good result will mean a lot for Indian golf and therefore it means a lot to him. “Yeah, it's ‑‑ it means a great deal to me.  I feel like if I can inspire kids back home in any way, it will definitely be a great thing for me, and I'll be really happy if I can do that. I went back (after WGC-Mexico) for the Indian Open, and I had so many kids coming up to me and so many parents coming up to me and congratulating me, and I think that really makes me very happy that when I see more and more kids coming in the game, more and more people coming and following me.  So, yeah, definitely it has a good sound to it, that I am representing the future of golf (in India).”

Sharma, known to meditate between rounds to attain “a monk-like state” for five hours during a round, is still looking to meet Tiger Woods. Sharma admitted he would be nervous when he meets Woods. “I saw his bag in the morning (Tuesday).  So that's the closest I've gotten to him.  I will be nervous a  little bit.  With Tiger I think everyone can be like a fanboy.  And this here, when I was in Dubai, I saw Rory and Dustin and all these guys, and I'm sharing the same locker room with them, so that was very, very special.  Then Phil in Mexico, But just Tiger has a different aura about him and just the player that he is and how he dominated the world of golf is something.  Yeah, so I just ‑‑ it definitely will be a fanboy moment for me when I go and say hi to him.”

Kiradech, who made his Masters debut in 2016 where he finished tied 15th, is back after getting into top-50 at the end of 2017. It was a very nerve wracking finish to the season and he just managed to get inside the line as the year drew to a close.

“I was very nervous as I tried to get into the Masters,” said Kiradech. “It was a great result to finish tied 15th. I have been trying to get back to the Masters since then and now I got in. (In 2016) I was very nervous to start, I was five-over on front nine and I could not control speed, could not control anything and I was so nervous. But I played very well on the back nine to go 5-under and even par for the round. I made the cut with 72-72, but had a tough time in round three before finishing Tied-15.”

He will enter the Masters in fine form after finishing tied fifth at the WGC-Mexico Championships and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

“I am playing well and I am comfortable with my swing. But unfortunately it (driver) broke during practice round. However my team at Callaway is very good, they will get it right before the first round. So I will play with a brand new driver, but I am confident as my team is very good.”