New Delhi, Feb 8 (PTI) Indian golfer Shubhankar Sharma is eagerly waiting to return to the WGC-Mexico Championship to be held at Club de Golf Chapultepec in Naucalpan, Mexico from February 21 to 24.
A year ago, the 22-year-old Panchkula-based star took the world by storm, grabbing the second and third-round leads against a star-studded field at Club Golf de Chapultepec before finishing tied ninth.
Back from a three-week trip to the Middle-East, where he missed two cuts in three starts, Shubhankar returned to India and is back to his training base in Chandigarh. He will next travel to Mexico for the year's first World Golf Championships.
While disappointed he failed to cross the finish line first, Shubhankar's valiant run in Mexico last year propelled him to global fame and set him off on an adventure of a lifetime where he featured in all four World Golf Championships plus the majors, won the Asian Tour Order of Merit title and was afforded the Arjuna award.
As the 2019 season unfolds, Shubhankar targets a place on the International team for the President's Cup and greater success on European Tour and possible passage to the PGA Tour.
Shubhankar believes his 2018 campaign will form the building blocks as he pursues in this endeavour and moves forward with two victories in Asian Tour-European Tour sanctioned tournaments achieved in South Africa and Malaysia.
He has so far endured a subdued start to 2019 with two missed cuts from three tournaments but a timely return to the tree-lined and tricky Chapultepec course will get his adrenaline rushing again.
"I'm looking forward to going back to Mexico. Obviously, I've got lots of special memories and feelings from last year's tournament. I really like the golf course where you have to be sharp with your game. I'll be giving my best for sure. You never know what can happen … golf is funny game. I wasn't able to win it last year and I'll keep trying," Shubhankar said.
Shubhankar, who grew up watching major golf events with his father during the wee hours of mornings in their Chandigarh home, shot rounds of 65, 66 and 69 to turn the spotlight on himself before closing with a 74.
It marked a magical week, which included an amusing encounter with eventual winner Phil Mickelson, who had brushed Shubhankar away when the Indian approached him on the practice putting green as the American thought he was a journalist looking for an interview.
"It (Mexico) was definitely a highlight in 2018. I couldn't finish it off, but it was a turning point for me. It showed I could play against best in the world in what was my first WGC of my career," Shubhankar said.
"Having a chance to win at this stage of my career was a good experience, and upon my return home, I received a lot of support and a lot of kids now look up to me and they also believe they can play at the highest stage.
"Mexico was a really big stage and I had a chance to win which was huge. Hopefully I'll get more opportunities," he added.
In October, Shubhankar reinforced his growing credentials by taking the co-third round lead in the CIMB Classic in Malaysia before finishing tied 10th with a final round 72.
He believes he can eventually break through and earn the right to compete full time on the PGA TOUR.
"You always learn something new, there's a lot of pressure and the body can react differently. In Mexico and CIMB, I learned a lot. It's more of the mental approach, getting more comfortable playing in the lead groups. I'm comfortable playing in the lead but at the highest stage, it's a different level," he said.
In all, in 2018 Sharma featured in 33 tournaments, most of them on courses, where he was playing for the first time.
He hopes to trim his schedule this season to ensure his mind and body are fresh whenever he tees it up.
"I played a lot of big events. A lot of good things happened and it raised my confidence that I could play against the best," Shubhankar said.
"It was a long season and I got to learn about my body. I'm learning to get over jet lags and getting rest. I'm hoping to get the scheduling right, make a proper schedule and stick to it."
Shubhankar's goals for 2019 are quite clear -- he intends to join the International Team for the Presidents Cup at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club in December and also challenge for a PGA TOUR card through the non-member category.
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