© Maybank Championship
Shubhankar Sharma is feeling relaxed about his Maybank Championship title defence, as the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year aims to build on a stellar debut season on the European Tour.
“I have some very special memories from last year. It just feels like yesterday that I won here. I made that putt on 18 and was waiting in scorers for the rest of the field to finish. It’s great to come back, it was my biggest win.
“I love the course here. I had a good finish the year before last when I finished top 10. I actually just love Malaysia as a country. I love the people and the heat doesn’t get to me, which is good. Hopefully I can draw on the good memories and play well this week.”
The 22 year old burst on to the scene with two early victories on the 2018 Race to Dubai, following up his maiden win at the Joburg Open with his biggest victory yet, coming from four shots back to take the title at Saujana Golf and Country Club.
With two trophies in his cabinet by early February, he cemented his status as Indian golf’s new rising star by playing in all four Major Championships and impressing on his World Golf Championships debut, famously leading the world-class WGC-Mexico Championship field by two shots going into the final round before posting an impressive top ten finish.
“I definitely feel like I’ve become a better player from last year. Obviously I have more experience. I’ve played some of the biggest events in the world, I played in all of the Majors last year. In two of those Majors I was actually playing in front of Tiger, so the biggest crowds I have ever seen. It’s good that I’ve seen all of those situations.
“I’m much more relaxed now, but you don’t want to get too relaxed when you are playing. These are some of the best players in the world and you have to be 100%, but I’ll definitely be more comfortable than I was last year playing in the marquee group.”
Sharma is joined in the field in this week’s co-sanctioned Maybank Championship by Jazz Janewattananond, another young player who has impressed on both the European Tour and Asian Tour and has aspirations of challenging the best in the world in the near future.
The 23 year old Thai claimed his third Asian Tour title at the Singapore Open in January to break into the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and is aiming for a good finish this week to help propel him towards his next aim of following his friend and recent European Tour winner Justin Harding of South Africa into the top 50.
“I was fortunate to crack the top 100 this soon. It was always in the back of my mind to take the next step and get into the top 50. This is going to be a big week, if I can play good this week I have a chance of cracking the top 50 sooner.
“Seeing the likes of Justin Harding is very inspiring. We played a lot together last year. Now that he is in the top 50 he’ll have a better chance of getting into the Masters. To see someone close to you do that is very inspiring and it gives you a boost and confidence that you can do it too.
“I’m feeling really good. I had a couple of good finishes coming in to this week. It’s always nice to come back to Malaysia. I love this city, I love the sky line, I love the street food here. I’m enjoying myself out here and we’ll try to move that into the golf course as well.”
Also teeing it up the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur this week are three-time Major winner and current European Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington and his victorious predecessor Thomas Bjørn, as well as American Kurt Kitayama, who has emulated Sharma this year by racing to two European Tour victories in his rookie season.