EXCLUSIVE | Shubhankar Sharma in conversation with WION Photograph:( AFP )
Ace Indian golfer, Shubhankar Sharma, in an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, reflected on life in lockdown, how the unprecedented halt is going to affect the world of sport, why the postponement of Tokyo Olympics is a blessing in disguise for him, his uncanny technique with the cricket bat and much more.
Sportspersons have been restricted to train indoors amid the lockdown. Athletes, who usually are on the road due to their hectic scheduling, are now getting to spend time with their families but are missing the high-octane action which makes the sporting world special. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the sporting world to a grinding halt and golf is one of the sport to be affected by the dreaded virus the most.
Golf organisations tried to salvage the season with a series of changes in the scheduling of British Open, PGA Championships, PGA Tour postseason, US Open, Ryder Cup, Masters, to name a few, in a hope that normal routine will prevail once the chaos surrounding the coronavirus pandemic is over.
Ace Indian golfer, Shubhankar Sharma, in an exclusive interview with WION’s Sports Editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, reflected on life in lockdown, golfing in garden, how the unprecedented halt is going to affect the world of golf, why the postponement of Tokyo Olympics is a blessing in disguise for him, his uncanny technique with cricket bat and much more.
Digvijay Singh Deo: Shubhankar Sharma, thank you for your time. Saw a Twitter video of you playing cricket and now tips coming in from former India cricketers. Any improvements swinging a cricket bat?
Shubhankar Sharma: We're all just trying to pass our time. I hadn't played cricket in a while, so I decided to give it a go when the lockdown was announced and since then I have been playing every day at 5 in the evening for about an hour and I must say it's a lot of fun.
DSD: Have you probably got a driving simulator installed somewhere in the house, or is there a putting green in the backyard?
Shubhankar: Yes, the garden has been converted into a putting green, I spend about an hour or two chippings every day in my garden. That is one of the aspects of my game that I really need to work upon and I'm just using this time to do so since it doesn't require a lot of space. I do air swings and that really helps improve my muscle memory. I work out for an hour as well, so my various activities keep me occupied throughout the day.
DSD: If you're chipping in your garden, then it wouldn't be a great sight once the lockdown is over!
Shubhankar: My parents might not be happy with the state of the garden, but they would prefer that to have me inside the house all the time. They're not used to having me home for such a long period of time, I think this is the longest I've spent at home in a while since I travel so much. It is a welcome break for me, but I'm sure it must be strange for my parents and sister to have me home for such an extended period.
DSD: Every sportsperson out there, professional or amateur is currently inactive...is it frustrating for someone so used to being outdoors and how are you coping with it?
Shubhankar: To be honest, I feel it's the opposite for me. I'm pretty happy that I'm at home. I've been travelling a lot in the past three years, things really changed for me when I won in Johannesburg in 2017. I've played in Europe and America in the last couple of years and even at the start of 2020, I travelled quite a bit, so it got really hectic for me.i feel this is a blessing in disguise for me since there's a lockdown, I can't go and meet friends but I still don't mind being at home. I enjoy not having to push myself every day. The atmosphere in my house is very relaxed, even though I'm still working on certain aspects of my game, overall, it is a welcome change
DSD: There is a massive problem in tennis especially with a lot of players struggling financially, forget the PGA Tour and the European tours where the prize money is significant. What about Indian players? How are they coping with no income?
Shubhankar: The situation is obviously not ideal, everyone would want to play right now. Especially in India, the prize money from the tournaments is not much and as you said there are a bunch of players whose livelihoods depend on the money they get from the PGTI tournaments. So these are tough times. But having said that, I feel there are bigger issues to fight in the world. The death toll due to the coronavirus pandemic is rising every day and there is a real global crisis.
It is not just golf, every single industry or person is suffering. The economy has taken a big hit .i've spoken to a few friends who are dying to play and same for me as well. Fortunately, I'm not struggling financially at the moment, but I'm sure there are many players on the PGTI tour who are going through major problems. I hope this phase passes soon and life gets back to normal. India has done a commendable job in containing the disease with the various measures taken and I'm proud of the way our country has reacted to the outbreak. Hopefully, we weather the storm and the PGTI will be up and running in august or September, if I'm being optimistic.
DSD: Now it’s not just the players, there are caddies and others who are apart of a players team. Caddies usually not paid monthly, they get a percentage of the players' income from a tournament and Tommy Fleetwood's caddy recently organised a fundraiser online.
Shubhankar: Everyone has been affected by the crisis. I think the players are not the ones who are suffering the most, the caddies or the support staff are the worst hit. Any tournament happens because of the hard work of the support staff and the organisers, the same is the case with the PGTI tournaments in India. It's great that Tommy Fleetwood's caddie is raising money for other fellow bagmen, I think that is a fantastic gesture. But it's an unfortunate situation for the whole world. Hopefully, a vaccine will be available soon and the world will go back to functioning normally.
DSD: If all had been going well then the first round of the masters would just have been completed and we would be analysing trends, all we can do is rewind to Tiger’s triumph last year and Tiger had a champions dinner with his family to sort of remind everyone...
Shubhankar: Yes big tournaments like the Augusta Masters and Wimbledon in tennis have been cancelled.april is usually a very exciting time for sport. I was lucky enough to play in the masters a couple of years back and ever since I was a kid I have been watching the masters. So for sports fans its a tough time as well. In fact, just in the morning, I was going through my photos from the masters and I also watched some of Tiger Woods' old clips from Augusta, enjoying a few of his great moments. But the situations is what it is, I think we just have to wait it out at this moment of time.
DSD: Significant announcement this week from the PGA Tour and other tours. We at least have three majors still lined up this season when it begins. What do you make of the revamped schedule?
Shubhankar: I think it's a great step by all the golfing bodies to announce the schedule. More than anything I just think it gives us golfers something to look forward to, it makes us more optimistic for a golfing season. It also gives me a little push to develop my game, as well as mentally gear up for action in the near future. So it keeps us on our toes even in this lockdown period.
DSD: Will golfers need a new approach towards the game given the revamped schedule, especially during the last few months of the year?
Shubhankar: Yes, it just changes everyone's schedule. We are obviously not used to having the masters in November. The rest of the majors have been pushed to august and September, so it will require us golfers to adapt. For me, I have been playing on the European tour for the last couple of years and our season gets over in Dubai in November, so the whole schedule will change. Hopefully, the swing that happens before the British Open will happen in the latter part of the year, but no announcement has been made yet.
As of now, I'm just looking forward to August and September, when the events will resume. Despite the announcement, there is still obviously uncertainty surrounding the season as we don't know when exactly the crisis will finish. But even if we cannot have a full season, holding a few events will be beneficial for the sport.
DSD: Should tournaments resume without fans, will it be the same, Shubhankar?
Shubhankar: It obviously won't be the same. Any sport will become boring without fans. They were discussing holding the Masters without fans, for me, the masters is a very special tournament, but the fans make it even more special for a player.
Not only golf, but the same atmosphere also cannot be created in sports like tennis or formula one without the fans, it's just not the same. In football as well, there are talks of the champions league taking place without fans. In football it's hard to imagine a game in an empty stadium, it will be very strange. But I understand that deadlines have to be met and this is an unprecedented situation.
So I think the step should be taken only if it is the last resort, I think a better option would be to wait it out and come back stronger. For example, the Olympics were pushed back to 2021, because they realised that the event would not have been able to take place in its full glory in 2020. Athletes would not have been fully prepared and lesser fans would have travelled to Japan. So sport without fans is very strange and I certainly wouldn't watch if there were no spectators in a match or an event.
DSD: Another big casualty has been the Olympics. Pushing it back by a year gives you a shot now to climb up the rankings if and when the season resumes...
Shubhankar: It is definitely a blessing in disguise for me. I wasn't in the best of form at the start of the year, I didn't have any good finishes in tournaments. There were a lot of things I was working on in my game, and for that reason, i wasn't very settled. I was just making a lot of mental errors. Now since the games have been pushed back, it just gives me time to reevaluate things and work on certain aspects of my game like chipping, which I am doing in my garden. I'm not that far behind in terms of qualification and I am confident if I play to the best of my ability, I will make the team and compete for a medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
DSD: Do you know to go back to the drawing board in terms of your schedule as you target an Olympic berth. Will you consider playing on the Asian Tour as it is difficult to always finish in the top-10 on the European or PGA tours?
Shubhankar: Yes I will definitely reconsider my schedule this year. Even the Indian tour for that matter has world ranking points on offer. I have grown up playing on that tour and I am familiar with the courses and other players as well. So playing on the Indian tour will be a good start in terms of moving up in the rankings. So I will figure out a way in which I can play some more Asian tour events.
DSD: When things resume how rusty will everyone be, some sportspersons reckon it will be a level playing field for all athletes for the first couple of months because of the lack of practice...
Shubhankar: Definitely, I think everyone is going to be rusty. Even though we are indoors, there are a number of things we can work on, both physically and mentally. So a possibility of a level playing field is there, but I think the great players will still come out and shoot low scores, that is what separates the average players from the great ones. It comes down to your work ethic, and that is where the best players outshine the others.