New Delhi, Nov 19 (IANS) Young golfer Shubhankar Sharma capped a dream season on the European Tour by becoming the first Indian to win the tours Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year award.
Sharma achieved the feat soon after finishing tied 41st at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship event in Dubai.
The 22-year-old claimed a creditable 28th place on the Race to Dubai rankings thanks to his two wins and three other top-10s. His total points for the season stood at an impressive 1,431,741.
Sharma, the current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader, started the season with a tied 10th at the UBS Hong Kong Open and two weeks later claimed his maiden international victory at the European Tour’s Joburg Open in just his 10th start on the continental tour.
He soon followed that up with his second title at the Maybank Championship in Malaysia where he carded a phenomenal final round of 62 to take the golfing world by storm.
The Chandigarh-based golfer thus joined previous Rookies of the Year, Spaniard Jon Rahm and Korean Jeunghun Wang, as well as former World No.1 Luke Donald of England, as the only players in the last 20 years to win twice in their first 20 events.
Sharma, thereafter, added another feather to his cap with a memorable World Golf Championships debut at the WGC — Mexico Championship where he finished tied ninth after having led the field at the end of 54 holes.
The outstanding performance in Mexico earned him a special invitation to the Masters.
The very next week, he posted a tied seventh at the Indian Open on his home soil that helped him climb to a career-high 64th in the world rankings and also take the lead in the Race to Dubai. Sharma ended up playing all four Majors and all four WGC events in the year.
Sharma’s consistent performances in the season saw him enter the season-ending DP World Tour Championship at 26th in the rankings but he was not guaranteed the Rookie prize, with Lucas Herbert and Sam Horsfield still in with a chance to overtake him at the last event.
After a forgettable final round of eight-over-80 in Dubai, Sharma slipped 32 places to tied 41st at two-under-286 but that was enough for him to seal the prize for best Rookie.
Commenting on the award, Sharma said: “You can only do it once in your career and I’m very happy with the season. I’m very happy to be on the Tour here.”
“I’m sure a lot of other great players before have won this award, I’m really happy that I was lucky enough to win it this year. I played well and won twice and had a few top tens, so very happy.
“To win twice and just to learn so much on this Tour with the best players in the world, I would say I had a great year,” he added.
Sharma joins an illustrious list of European Tour Rookies of the Year including Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, José María Olazábal, Colin Montgomerie, Thomas Bjørn, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Martin Kaymer, Brooks Koepka and last year’s winner Jon Rahm.
Finishing inside the top-30 on the Race to Dubai, has now also guaranteed Sharma, currently the highest-ranked Indian in the world at No.123, a spot at The Open at Royal Portrush next year.
Sharma is now staring at another major career milestone as he looks to capitalise on his lead in the Asian Tour Order of Merit in the final stretch of the season to emerge as Asia No.1.
He will look to emulate fellow Indians Jyoti Randhawa (2002), Atwal (2003), Jeev Milkha Singh (2006 and 2008) and Anirban Lahiri (2015), who have lifted the crown in the past.