Australia’s Scott Hend hopes to continue his affinity with Asia when he challenges for back-to-back victories at the historic Hero Indian Open which starts on Thursday.

Won Joon LeeThe big-hitting Hend, who claimed his 10th Asian Tour title in Malaysia last week, is looking to taste success in India for the first time in his career when he takes on the challenging Gary Player-designed course at the DLF Golf and Country Club.

Hailed as the most successful international player on the Asian Tour, Hend had claimed all his 10 victories in Asia, including three titles in Thailand, two in Macau and one each in Indonesia, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei and Singapore.

Reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion Shubhankar Sharma will have another shot at fulfilling his childhood ambitions as he takes aim at adding his name to the illustrious list of Indian winners at the US$1.75 million event.

The 22-year-old Sharma, the highest-ranked Indian on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), set a new course record after firing an eight-under-par 64 during the second round of the Hero Indian Open last year.

The talented Indian held a share of the lead heading into the final round last year but would eventually close with a disappointing 75 to settle for a tied-seventh place finish.

Armed with a more mature mindset and a better game plan this time around, Sharma hopes to redeem himself by putting up another title charge in his National Open.

Anirban Lahiri, the 2015 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, is thrilled to be back home for the first time this year after honing his skills on the PGA Tour, where he has made five cuts in his last seven starts so far this season.

Lahiri, who won the Indian Open in 2015,  endured a long haul 19-hour flight from Florida before arriving in New Delhi this morning. He will have to fight off jet-lag to turn his season around at the event which he has enjoyed several impressive results in the past.

A stellar 144-men field from 28 countries will be vying for top honours at the Hero Indian Open, which celebrates its 55th edition this week.

Did you know?

Scott Hend made his Asian Tour debut  in 2007 and is now the second highest-earning player following Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee with accumulated earnings of US$5.04 million. He broke the US$5 million mark in career earnings on the Asian Tour after winning the Maybank Championship, where he took home a winner’s prize purse of US$500,000 last week.

Hend ended a three-year title drought on the Asian Tour when he claimed his 10th victory at the Maybank Championship last week.

He was the first Australian to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2016 thanks to his two victories in Thailand and three top-10 finishes.

Hend missed the cut in his past two appearances at the Indian Open but his best finish at the event was a tied-12th result in 2012.

Shubhankar Sharma is playing in his second event at home this year. He enjoyed a joint runner-up result on his local circuit in February.

Placed 122nd on the OWGR, Sharma is the highest-ranked Indian in the field this week.

The 2018 Arjuna Award recipient set the course record of eight-under-par 64 in the second round of the Hero Indian Open last year.

He narrowly missed out on a win at his National Open after taking a joint-lead into the final round last year but struggled to a 75 to end up in tied-seventh.

Sharma is the youngest Indian to play in all four Major Championships in 2018, following the footsteps of Jeev Milkha Singh in 2007 and Anirban Lahiri in 2015 and 2016.

Anirban Lahiri, now a regular player on the PGA Tour, is a two-time International team member of the Presidents Cup. He has won seven times on the Asian Tour, four of his victories were won on home soil.

Lahiri overcame an incredible seven-shot deficit to become the eighth Indian to win his country’s National Open in 2015. He went on to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit that same year.

The Indian has enjoyed impressive results at his country’s National Open, finishing in the top-five in his past 11 appearances.

Players’ Quotes:

Scott Hend (Aus)

It took a fair while for it to sink in that I had actually won, and I didn’t really enjoy it until yesterday morning when I was sitting at the airport in Bangkok on my way here. It was a pretty busy Sunday afternoon and Monday I had a really bad headache from heatstroke, didn’t even get a chance to celebrate, so it’s been a bit of a whirlwind trip here and now it’s time to enjoy it.

I find it a daunting golf course. I wouldn’t say tricky or difficult, it’s just that if you hit a bad shot here you are going to be penalised. If I don’t hit the ball how I want to, I am just going to make a double or triple bogey somewhere and it is a course where you can’t over power it. You still have to be in control of your golf ball and plot your way around the course.

I would like to have a sound tournament and play solid on this golf course. It is a tournament I haven’t figured out yet how to play. I’ve watched one of the shortest players on Tour win around here playing with S.S.P (Chawrasia) when he took it apart, and then I saw Matt Wallace play great here last year. So, SSP who just plots his way around the golf course and just breaks it apart, then you have Matt Wallace who was just pounding the golf ball everywhere, so somewhere in the middle there has got to be a key to playing the course well.

I am starting to get to where I want to be, I am not there yet but it is a slow progression. I will play the golf course in a very defensive frame of mind. There are some holes out here that you can take advantage of and some you really have to be careful with, and par is a good score.
To win here in India with a lot of Indian friends, it would be special because in terms of national opens this is such a prestigious tournament, it has been going for such a long time and to get your name on that trophy would be an honour and a privilege.

Anirban Lahiri (Ind)

It’s always wonderful to be back home, having marsala for breakfast. I’ve just missed this. Every time I come back, I have happy memories, having played well in this tournament for a number of years. It’s also interesting to see all the young kids coming out and grown on tour. I always look forward to playing this event.

My game has been a bit inconsistent but it is moving in the right direction. I’ve had a couple of bad weekends, but I have managed to single out the problems which need to be fixed and I just need to pull it together and stay focused. I need to clean up my process on the weekend rounds. The problem with me is I always try too hard and losing my rhythm in that process.

Flying in straight from the US and having travelled so much the past few weeks my main focused is to keep my head in the right place.

This course is probably in the best shape that any of us has seen so far. It seems to be the most playable compared to all the other years we’ve played. The greens are also softer and the grass has settled down. It will be a great golf course, we’ll see how it goes because it really changes depending on if the tees are pushed back or pushed forward.

Shubhankar Sharma (Ind)

This was my home course for the longest time and it feels great to be back on familiar grounds and I stay very close to the golf course so all my family is here to watch me.

Obviously last year a lot of things were happening. I flew in straight from Mexico and then right after I flew to The Masters. So, I had to deal with jet lag and amidst all that I was still able to soot the course record and do pretty well. I am a lot more relaxed this time around and more focused so this year will be different.

The course is playing much better than last year. Most of the players I’ve spoken to have been happy with how the course is. I am obviously a lot more mature this year and really enjoying my game. I just want to get back into the groove again of playing at my best again.

It would mean the world to me, the Indian open is very special to us Indians, especially to win on a course that has supported me in my career would b
And to join the past Indian winners that I have idolized since I was young has always been my goal. Hopefully everything goes well this week and we’ll see what happens.