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April 3, 2018

Shubhankar Sharma

Augusta, Georgia

THE MODERATOR: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. It's our pleasure to welcome a first‑time participant Shubhankar Sharma. You received a special invitation after an impressive showing in the last few months. Did you ever think that you would be teeing off at Augusta National?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: I always dreamed of playing here, but to be honest I was very surprised when I got the invitation and I always wanted to get here, but just to get here so early is truly, truly a dream come true.
THE MODERATOR: That's great. You'll be the fourth Indian player to compete at the Masters, including Anirban Lahiri, whose father I think that you know. Could you explain a little bit about your relationship with him?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Yeah, I had a good relationship with and err ban. I've known him for many, many years now, and his father was my mother's doctor when she was in labor with my sister. So it was in 2002, and he was one of the reasons why I got in the game. No one in our family played golf, and me and my dad went to the golf course on the very same day in 2002, and that was the first time, that was the first experience of a golf course and just going and hitting balls.
So his father was instrumental in kind of pushing both of us into the game.
THE MODERATOR: That's great. I know you get asked this question a lot, but how does it feel like for you representing the future of Indian golf?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Yeah, it's‑‑ it means a great deal to me. I feel like if I can inspire kids back home in any way, it will definitely be a great thing for me, and I'll be really happy if I can do that.
I went back for the Indian Open, and I had so many kids coming up to me and so many parents coming up to me and congratulating me, and I think that really makes me very happy that when I see more and more kids coming in the game, more and more people coming and following me. So, yeah, definitely it has a good sound to it, that I am representing the future of golf, and I think it helps that I'm really young and kids can look up to me and say that if he can do it, we can do it as well.
THE MODERATOR: That's great. Questions?

Q. I know you always said that the last few months have been like a whirlwind for you, things have changed a lot for you over these last three, four months. And I also know that you like to meditate during the rounds itself, if you hit a bad shot, if you hit a good shot, you just like to bring yourself back to even keel. Can you just talk a bit about how you have been able to cope up and if this role of meditation and focusing, what your mother has taught you, has helped you go through these whirlwind times. I mean, very good times, but what has happened with you over the last four months or so.
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Yeah, I think it has really helped me. It's just the way I've grown up, I have always been very, very calm on the course, even though I'm very different off it, I like to have as much fun as possible, but on the course I try to be as calm as possible. And it's‑‑ normally it's a very, very long round, it's a five‑hour round and you can go through ups and downs during the round.
Sometimes you might be playing well and thoughts come into your head and you kind of lose it for a few holes, and then you have to beat yourself down and you have to get up again and start playing well again.
So I think it's, you have to be in a monk‑like state for five hours. You have to kind of keep your subconscious mind going and just keep on playing with what you have practiced. I think that is very, very important, and that is what I've learned over the years. And Mom has been very instrumental in that and in putting me through the part of meditation, even though I don't do it as much as my mom would like me to do it, but I still try. And whenever I'm alone, I try and concentrate and concentrate on my breath and just try and soak in the moment and try and be present in the moment.

Q. Can I just follow up. I know you do it after every bad shot that you hit, you close your eyes and you just try to get back. Do you try to do that even after some sensational shot you have pulled out?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Yeah, I mean, it's like I said, you have to kind of be at the same frequency for the whole five hours of a round, a tournament round. And, yeah, I do that as much as possible. I don't try and feel too bad when I hit a bad shot, but at the same time when I hit a good shot I try and just be the way I was before I hit the shot. I don't want to get too happy about it, because it's not over until you make the final putt on the 18th. So you still got to be in the game, and I think that is very important.

Q. An Indian player has obviously not won the Masters or any major even a PGA TOUR event at this stage. You spoke about obviously being the future of golf there. What would a win here this week do for golf in India?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: It would‑‑ I think it would mean a great deal. We have won PGA winner in and Arjun Atwal. We don't have a Major winner, but we have a top‑10 I think by Jeev Milkha Singh in the PGA Championship, he finished ninth.
I think that we do have a lot of great players back home in India. We have a strong presence in Asia on the Asian Tour and we have a good few good players on the European Tour as well.
I feel like it will do wonders for the game back home. I feel like more and more kids will start playing, and every sport needs a hero, and we have a few heroes back home, but a Major winner is‑‑ has a different sound to it. So I feel like if we can have a Major win, it will just do wonders for the game back home.

Q. Have you personally I guess embraced the weight of a nation? I mean, five years ago Adam Scott won the first Masters for Australia, and it had been almost a burden for those guys for years and years. Have you rather embraced it instead?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: There's no burden, to be honest. There's no pressure at all. I think everyone back home is happy I'm competing at this level, and hopefully I'll keep coming back here for many years to come.
So at the end of the day it's just a game and you just are just trying to have fun. So if my game is good enough to win here, which I feel it is, when I‑‑ if I play my best, I will surely be in contention. You know, it's just like any other golf tournament, you play four good rounds of golf, and you end up winning.
Obviously the pressure is a lot more and it's a very high stage, but personally I don't feel any burden. I'm actually very happy that I'm getting a lot of attention. A lot of people back home are following me, and if I can get a good finish this weekend, maybe even win a Green Jacket, it will be great for the game.

Q. Can you describe your first memory of the Masters, whether it be watching it on TV or as a kid and maybe a particular moment or player or shot or something?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: I think the earliest memory I have is probably Trevor Immelman winning, is probably the first year when I saw it properly for four days. 2006 was it? Or 2007.

Q. 2008.
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Who won in 2007?

Q. Zach Johnson.
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: No, I watched Zach win as well. I think that was the first win I saw a Masters before this. And 2005 when Tiger won, I was playing golf but I wasn't really aware of golf that much that I would watch all the Major championships, I was still trying to grasp how the game works and how the PGA TOUR works and how many Majors you have. I was really young into the game at that time. So I would say 2007 Masters when Zach laid up on all par‑5s and still ended up winning, that was my first memory.
But, yeah, I've seen‑‑ I pretty much watched videos of most of the Masters on YouTube, and seen 2005, the chip I know he made on the 16th, Tiger, and obviously '86 Masters. All of that I pretty much seen all the YouTube videos. But 2007 is my first proper memory of watching the Masters.

Q. You just spoke about the first time that you saw the Masters in 2007, actually its coverage, and you spoke about the influence of your dad. Could you recall the first time that your dad and you spoke about the Masters in particular, a lot of what a Major‑‑ the Masters in particular? And a supplementary, how did it feel when you came through the Magnolia drive yesterday?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: I would say again, between 2005 and 2007, I don't really remember the first time we actually spoke about the Masters, but like I said, both of us were very new into the game. We knew not much about the game. 2002 was the first time we went to a golf course. So dad didn't know that there was a Masters, and even if he knew, he didn't really follow it much. He must have read about it the papers, but he didn't really follow the Masters very much.
But I had a memory in 2007 or 2008 is when I decided that I wanted to take up golf as a career. It's what I want to do, I want to be a professional golfer. And after that, both of us, me and my dad, were totally into it. We spent a lot of time on the golf course. Dad used to take a lot of holidays ‑‑ not holidays, a lot of leaves from‑‑ as much as he could get and then he could then he could travel with me for tournaments, junior tournaments. So that was a great sacrifice on his part. And I think that the main reason for me being here is my family and all the sacrifices that they have made for me.
And obviously getting to the Magnolia Lane yesterday was great. I made a video of it, and it's‑‑ you just take a ride from the main road, and the Magnolia road is right in front of you. And I imagined all these years going on the Magnolia Lane and driving through it, so it was definitely a great experience.

Q. Before you got to Magnolia Lane, were you a little bit surprised at the city streets? Were you expecting more?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: No, I was told that it's a small town, Augusta is a small town, so I pretty much expected of what I saw. And I took that ride into the Magnolia Lane, that was very special. It was I‑‑ thought it would be like a gate and then you will get in and then you will find the Magnolia Lane, but it was just a‑‑ you just take a right and the Magnolia Lane is right there. And it's‑‑ it's right in front of you, which is just great. You can see the clubhouse at the end of the lane. And it's the best road that I've driven on. I drove through the Magnolia Lane today, and every time you get there you get goose bumps.

Q. Are you doing the driving?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Yeah. I got used to it now driving on the other side of the road.

Q. When Tiger came to India, and I don't remember if it was DLF or Delhi‑‑
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Delhi, yeah, it was in Delhi, yeah.

Q. Was that a big deal for you, and what kind of impact did it have on you?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: It was. It was. And at that time I used to stay in Delhi, it was‑‑ I could sneak in a few tickets. I got one for myself and one more dad and for the whole family, actually, and we ended up watching him play. So that was great. And I have never seen so many people on a golf course, just for one day, especially that day so many people came out to watch him. Thousands and thousands of people.
And that golf course is a course where it's very, very tight, so you don't have a lot of space to walk, but it was Tiger so everyone came out, and that had a huge impact. All of us‑‑ I had a lot of friends there as well. We were pretty much running from one green to another just to catch a glimpse of him. So it was a great thing. And Tiger has been a big inspiration not only to me but to a lot of kids back home, so it was an it was just great to watch him play in person and got to learn a lot.

Q. You have a new caddie since last week, just want to understand how that relationship has perhaps like different because it brings a lot of experience this week and follow through?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Mitch is fantastic. Mitch Knox is his name. He used to caddie for David Duval. He's won the British Open with him and they have been in contention at the Masters a few times. So Mitch has been fantastic, and he was joking yesterday that he has yardage books which are older than me. He has yardage backs from '95, '96. So it's great to have that experience that he really helped me this week. And yesterday, even yesterday he could really help me with a lot of pin positions and just right places to hit the ball and just information that the Rae's Creek has a big effect on mostly all the putts on the course. There's a huge pull towards the Rae's Creek.
So all these things I had to learn with him, and he had a few books, yardage books from '97, '98, and he just showed me how the course has changed and how‑‑ what are the changes that they made to the course. So it is great that we are working together. We started working last week and Arjun and Danny both suggested that I should actually go and speak to him and ask him if he could come and caddie for me. So I think it's great that he's on board, and it's a great help to me.

Q. You spoke about the contribution of your family. Just wanted to ask you, if you will allow me, your young sister, full of energy, so excited for your golf and your success, what does that bring to you? And if you can just talk to us a little bit about the relationship.
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Yeah, my sister is here with me this week, and she's just sitting right there, and it's a great week for her as well. She has her diary with her, and she's pretty much going to write down whatever she's experiencing here. And I think it's a great experience for her as well. And.
We have been very close since we were kids, and it's great that my whole family is here and that they can experience the Masters live, just walking through the fairways and just see how it is. And I'm sure she will have a lot of stories to tell her friends back home when she gets there, and I'm sure she will enjoy the experience.

Q. You talked about the‑‑ how Tiger's affected your career. Have you had a chance to cross paths with him at all this week and how does that go and how do you handle that if he's a little bit of your childhood hero?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: I saw his bag in the morning today. So that's the closest I've gotten to him. But I'll probably see him today. He might be on the range or he will probably be practicing, so I'll surely catch a glimpse. If he is not busy, I'll go and say hi and speak to him.
Arjun Atwal is a good friend of his, and he told me just go up and say hi to him and he'll be nice. So I'll go and talk to him. And it's great that I'm competing in the same tournament as him.

Q. Will you be a little nervous or a little fanboyish?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: A little bit. With Tiger I think everyone can be like a fanboy. And this here, when I was in Dubai, I saw Rory and Dustin and all these guys, and I'm sharing the same locker room with them, so that was very, very special. But just Tiger has a different aura about him and just the player that he is and how he dominated the world of golf is something. Yeah, so I just‑‑ it's definitely will be a fanboy moment for me when I go and say hi to him.

Q. Where did you see his bag?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: I saw his bag outside the clubhouse with his caddie. I think he was going towards the range.

Q. In your mind you've played this golf course many times. You have played it on the PGA TOUR, the games, PSP. When you came out here, is there any hole that you really wanted to take on and play and that really matched your expectation or probably exceeded your expectation?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Most of the holes exceeded my expectation. They were all very, very beautiful. I was surprised just seeing the slope on first hole, it's a huge upslope on first hole, and that is very surprising. You can't really see it on TV. On TV it looks pretty flat. But there's a lot of elevation change on the golf course. But I really wanted to play the Amen Corner and that was very special. Just going down 11, 12 and 13 was fantastic. And then playing the 16th as well and hitting that skipper over the water was a lot of fun. And seeing a lot of people there, especially it being a Monday and seeing so many people out there, was absolutely great.

Q. Which was one shot that you always thought of playing and at the Masters?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: The chip maybe on 16 I still haven't hit it. There were a lot of people next to the green and I wasn't able to, there wasn't enough space. But that definitely I feel like that has to be one of the best shots in golf and that was definitely a special shot.

Q. Can you describe how much more accessible golf is now for a young Indian golfer looking to get started in the sport than from when you were a kid?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: I think a lot of things have changed back home in the past decade. After I started playing golf, seeing so many changes, the coaching facilities have become better, we have‑‑ you have a few more academies now for golfers to train. We still have a long way to go. I would say we still need more public golf course, we need a few more things. But I feel like a lot of change has happened over the years. We have more golf courses now, we have more kids playing on the junior circuits. We have more junior circuits. We only had one when I was a kid, but we have four or five different junior circuits back home now. So I think overall the game is growing back home in India, and I feel liked media is doing a great job. We're getting a lot of coverage these days. We have so many more articles about golf in the newspapers and sometimes in the main newspapers in India.
So I feel like things are changing, and we still have a long way to go, but I feel like in the coming years we'll have more and more players coming around. And like I said we have a strong presence on the Asian Tour and we will have more and more players on the PGA TOUR in the future and that is just going to inspire more kids and to get into golf, and I do feel like that is going to end up helping the rest of us as well we'll have more and more golf courses and more and more academies coming up.

Q. Can you please run us through getting the invite, a special invite how that felt and how that came about, and also then afterwards could you just let us know how your wins and particularly your play in Mexico has steeled you for playing this event.
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: Yeah, I got the invite. I had just landed back home from Mexico. I think it was about 7:00 in the evening is when I‑‑ actually I had a message from Mr.Buzzy Johnson, who is the senior director at the Masters. He said he was trying to get in touch with me and that he would want me to call him when I would land. And I was in the flight of that, and I couldn't see the e‑mail, but I called him about 7:00 in the evening and pretty much had an idea that it might be, but I didn't want to get my hopes too high.
So I just gave him a call, and he congratulated me for my good play this year many and he said that we would like to extend you an invite to the Masters. And it was very funny, the next day I was joking with my friends that there was‑‑ I think that after the press conference there was a post on the Masters web site that Shubhankar Sharma accepts the invitation to play in the Masters. And I was like there's no question about it. Why wouldn't I accept it? Somebody gets an invite to the Masters, I will definitely accept that.
So that was a lot of fun when I called him and I got the invitation. And I had a few friends with me at that time, which was a lot of fun, and we enjoyed that night.

Q. You spoke a lot about‑‑ is there any one single moment that you see Masters, reading about it, and now over the last 24 hours that you've been here at Augusta National, is there one thing that stands out? I know there's so many things. I know it's going to be difficult, but is there anything, one special thing that stands out? You just spoke about a fanboy moment, you spoke about a few holes, you spoke about driving through the Magnolia Lane, the invite and seeing it 15 years and all that. Is there any anything, one specific thing?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: I think it's‑‑ the best part about it is that it's everything is so grand, everything is so huge. This is the best‑‑ I'm pretty sure this is the best event in golf. The way it's staged and everything is so proper. It's‑‑ I would say the word I use is that it's just very, very grand. It's a very, very grand stage. You get to the first tee, and you can see the whole course. You can see so many people walking.
I think it's just celebration of golf, and I think that is the best part about it. And obviously the property is huge. There's so many things. It's almost like a maze. You're going through everything, and you can't really find things because everything is so big and you have the media center you have the press room, so many things. You have the old range, which I saw yesterday. So there's a piece of history in every part of the course, and I think that is the best part. There's a lot of history in this place, and that's the best part.

Q. Your dad is in the army, and he always thinks the proper way. So is that the reason, why you find this proper much to your liking?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: I probably have not done everything in a proper way, but I've tried to be as disciplined as possible. But army, being in the army, obviously it's‑‑ definitely I look at things in different way. But I would just say just it's every golfer's dream to be here. So it's‑‑ everything is very different at the Masters. Everything is very grand, everything has history to it, and just going and walking through locker rooms, seeing so many pictures of past champions. If you truly love golf, you will definitely get goose bumps seeing all of those things.
So I think it's great that I'm finally here and that my whole family is around me enjoying it.

Q. Curious, you talk about there will be a lot of people back home following you, I'm curious how are they following you? How do they consume the Masters back there? Is it on Twitter feeds? Is it on television? Is it televised a lot? And how important is the Masters back home? I know it's a small golf community in India, but within that community how important is that as a sporting event?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: We have we do have access to the Masters back home and I'm pretty sure that all the people who play golf watch the Masters. They all wake up late at night to see the Masters. And a few like‑‑ they said that I'm competing, there will be a lot more people who will be watching the Masters. I remember myself watching the Masters at six in the morning last year when I saw Sergio win.
So I'm pretty sure everyone back home, everyone who plays golf will definitely watch the Masters. And I feel like when I went for the Indian Open, so many parents came up to me and said I never watched golf at night, maybe once or twice, but I saw you play in Mexico. I saw you play Saturday night and Sunday night, which is great to hear from someone back home. And I feel like there will be a lot of people watching. And we have a Twitter feed, we have‑‑ I keep tweeting once in a while. There's a lot of activity happening on Twitter. People are really following me and tweeting about me, and even on Instagram. So I think I'm being well followed. And definitely, like I said, everyone who plays golf in India will definitely watch the Masters this year.

Q. Sorry to end this on such a serious note, but did anyone tell you about any of the food at Augusta? And if so, have you ever had pimento cheese, egg salad or peach cobbler?
SHUBHANKAR SHARMA: No, I have not had any of those dishes. The only problem is that I'm vegetarian, so I have limited choices. But I will probably go out and have something. I have to be very biased, I love Indian food. I feel like that is the best food in the world. And fortunately my mom is here and she's going to cook for me every day, and I'm pretty much‑‑ and I'll end up having that every day. But if I do get a chance when I tee off in the morning, I will go out and try to have a few delicacies like you mentioned.

Q. Be careful.
THE MODERATOR: On that very serious note, we'll finish. Congratulations again for being here, and we wish you all the best for the week ahead.

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