Rory McIlroy has extended an invitation to 21-year old India sensation Shabhunkar Sharma to join him for a pre-Masters practice round at Augusta National.
McIlroy was taken somewhat by suprise remarking ‘that’s great’ in learning the 2018 Masters Committee extended Sharma an invitation on Monday to tee-up for a first occasion in the Masters commencing April 5th.
Four months ago, Sharma was ranked a lowly 462nd on the World Rankings but now after victories in the Joburg Open and the Maybank Championship in Malaysia, he tees-up in this week’s European Tour Hero Indian Open as the World No. 66 thanks to his brilliant showing in last week’s WGC – Mexico Championship where the then World No. 75 led by two shots heading to the final round before sharing ninth place in Mexico City.
Sharma could still qualify for the Masters automatically should he be inside the top-50 on the World Rankings in the week prior to the Masters however Sharma need not worry having been afforded a ‘Special Exempton’ by Masters Chairman, Fred Ridley.
And McIlroy, who was aged 20 and finished T20th when he made his Masters debut in 2009, is delighted for the now eight-time pro career winning Sharma.
“I’ve been able to watch a little bit of him on TV. Obviously he’s won a couple of times on the European Tour, had a good chance to win and played in the final group last Sunday with Phil Mickelson,” said McIlroy.
“Playing in the Masters will be a great experience and my best advice for him is to just embrace the week and have fun and enjoy yourself. I think the more you can do that, the more Augusta lends itself to letting you just play and I think if you overthink it then that’s when Augusta can really think you. If you just go out and play and be creative and sort of use your imagination, you can have a really great week.”
“So it’s great to see it and great Augusta afforded Sharma an invitation.”
And when asked if he would be happy to play a Masters practice round in the company of Sharma, McIlroy happily agreed.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’ve got a game arranged on Monday and — yeah, of course I would love to have him join me for a practice round,” said McIlroy.
“I always try to play with some of the guys in a practice round. I don’t know if they want to pick my brain or someone else’s.”
And McIlroy’s advice to Sharma, after revealing he played two days of practice last week at Augusta National, was timely as the four-time Major winner was asked to recall his first experience of being at Augusta National a month shy of his 21st birthday in 2009.
“I felt the first time I was there at Augusta it was not the enthusiasm or being anxious but I was intimidated by the place,” said McIlroy.
“That was my feeling of being at Augusta but the more I’ve gotten to know the staff and I’ve gotten to know the caddies, gotten to know quite a lot of members, it’s not so intimidating anymore.”
“So, I feel a lot more comfortable not just playing the golf course but just in the grounds. That can be quite an unnerving place the first time you go. I’m a lot more comfortable there now.”
Of course, McIlroy will tee-up in this year’s Masters in what will be ‘Take Four” in his quest to join five other golfers in the history of the game to have won the coveted ‘Grand Slam’.
McIlroy is one of three ‘active’ players who can win the Grand Slam with Mickelson still needing to capture a U.S. Open and Jordan Spieth, after winning last year’s Open Championship, requiring to win a PGA Championship.
“I’ve got the first chance this year, the first opportunity,” said McIlroy.
“It would be nice to do it. Yeah. I mean it’s not that you’re thinking about it all the time but there’s three guys that have the chance to do it this year and yeah, I just want to win the tournament, not ahead of those guys or whatever, just the opportunity.”
“It’s all about bragging rights. But, you know, good to see Phil win last week. He’s been trending in the right direction. I said yesterday more people are talking about him going into this stage of the season because it seemed like he was flying under the radar a little bit so all that great golf that he played culminated in a win.”
“Golf is really healthy at this point, the three of us looking for the Slam, Tiger coming back, Justin Thomas playing so well, DJ (Dustin Johnson) being the No. 1 player in the world, Jon Rahm. It’s good.”
“I’m just glad to be in the conversation.”
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