Cape Town - Shubhankar Sharma is feeling relaxed about his Maybank Championship title defence, as the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year aims to build on a stellar debut season on the European Tour.
The 22-year-old burst on to the scene with two early victories on the 2018 Race to Dubai, following up his maiden win at the Joburg Open with his biggest victory yet, coming from four shots back to take the title at Saujana Golf and Country Club.
With two trophies in his cabinet by early February, he cemented his status as Indian golf's new rising star by playing in all four Major Championships and impressing on his World Golf Championships debut, famously leading the world-class WGC-Mexico Championship field by two shots going into the final round before posting an impressive top ten finish.
"I actually just love Malaysia as a country. I love the people and the heat doesn't get to me, which is good. Hopefully I can draw on the good memories and play well this week," said Sharma.
"I definitely feel like I've become a better player from last year. Obviously I have more experience. I've played some of the biggest events in the world, I played in all of the Majors last year. In two of those Majors I was actually playing in front of Tiger, so the biggest crowds I have ever seen. It's good that I've seen all of those situations.
"I'm much more relaxed now, but you don't want to get too relaxed when you are playing. These are some of the best players in the world and you have to be 100 percent, but I'll definitely be more comfortable than I was last year playing in the marquee group."
Sharma is joined in the field in this week's co-sanctioned Maybank Championship by Jazz Janewattananond, another young player who has impressed on both the European Tour and Asian Tour and has aspirations of challenging the best in the world in the near future.
The 23-year-old Thai claimed his third Asian Tour title at the Singapore Open in January to break into the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and is aiming for a good finish this week to help propel him towards his next aim of following his friend and recent European Tour winner Justin Harding of South Africa into the top 50.
Also teeing it up the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur this week are three-time Major winner and current European Ryder Cup Captain Padraig Harrington and his victorious predecessor Thomas Bjorn, as well as American Kurt Kitayama, who has emulated Sharma this year by racing to two European Tour victories in his rookie season.