Shubhankar Sharma, set for Masters debut, captivated by Augusta National course

has seen almost every minute of the Masters live coverage since 2007 and played the Augusta National Golf Course on the PGA Tour game on PlayStation, and in his dreams, hundreds of times.

The 21-year-old from Chandigarh, who was given a special invitation to play in this week’s first major of the season, thought he was adequately prepared to handle the beauty and the beast that tends to be.

Suffice to say that after two days of actually playing the golf course, the reigning European Tour Order of Merit leader has a newfound respect for this little piece of golfing heaven created by the legendary Bobby Jones and Alistair Mackenzie way back in 1933.

“I thought I was kind of prepared for it, but most of the holes exceeded my expectation. Of course, it goes without saying that they were all just very, very beautiful,” Sharma said on Wednesday before taking part in the Par 3 Contest with his father Colonel Mohan Sharma as his caddie.

“I was surprised just seeing the slope on first hole…the fairway there has huge elevation. That was very surprising. On TV, it looked pretty flat.

“Another new thing I learned was the effect of Rae’s Creek on the putts. The PlayStation games are very realistic but you don’t get to know things like this. Because of the pull of the water, any putt towards it is faster. On the 10th hole, with the creek behind the hole, I was surprised how the uphill putts were significantly faster than you’d expect.

“I really wanted to play the Amen Corner (the stretch of three holes from 11th that have always produced dramatic results) and that was very special. Just going down the 11th, 12th and 13th was fantastic.

“The tee shots on the two par-3s on the back nine are something. There are thousands of spectators sitting behind you on the 12th, and we all know how beautiful that hole is. I also loved the amphitheatre-like atmosphere on the 16th hole.”

It has helped greatly that Sharma has the experience of Mitch Knox on his bag this week. The American caddied for former world No1 David Duval for several years and won the 2001 Open Championship with him.

“He is just fantastic and so experienced. Mitch said he has yardage books of Masters that are older than me!” quipped Sharma.

“He knows Augusta National very well and has helped me understand its several nuances. He also has a wonderful reservoir of stories and keeps me informed and entertained on the course.

“My entire Masters experience has been brilliant so far. I just can’t wait for Thursday to come sooner.”

Mickelson’s words of encouragement

Phil Mickelson, the three-time Masters champion who defeated Sharma at the WGC-Mexico Championship recently, paid the ultimate compliment to the young Indian star by comparing him to Tiger Woods.

Mickelson, who mistook Sharma for a journalist during the Mexico event before playing the final round together, was among those who lauded the decision of the Masters Committee to hand him a special invite.

Mickelson said: “Given the way he played in Mexico and his talent level, I’m excited that he has the opportunity to play here and compete at the Masters.

“It will create more awareness in his home country for the game of golf. I think the growth potential in India is enormous, and what he’s doing to help grow that game could very well be similar to what Tiger has done to grow golf in the US and world.”