Anirban Lahiri: The dark horse of Indian golf conquering Europe one step at a time
The last two weeks have seen India’s Anirban Lahiri shake the very foundation of the European Golf Tour, by winning back to back titles in emphatic fashion. Heading into the final day of both tournaments, he was not even close to the leaders. However, the Bengaluru-based golfer has made winning from adversity a habit of sorts.
At the beginning of 2015, the 27-year old was ranked 64th in the world. But the last couple of weeks have seen him jump to the 34th position, thanks to victories at the Maybank Malaysian Open and the Hero Indian Open.
“No one can practice for those kind of situations, it’s almost impossible to recreate them. I just looked to put pressure on the leaders and it worked,” Lahiri said. He added, “I have been on the other side as well, where I went onto lose, despite leading for a long time, these things happen.”
Going into the last day of the Maybank Malaysian Open, Lahiri was five shots behind then World no. 36, Bernd Wiesberger. However, four birdies in the first five holes, put Lahiri right back in contention. He would eventually go on to win the tournament by a single shot.
At the Hero Indian Open, a play-off was needed to separate comeback King Lahiri and leader Shiv Kapur.
The month of February has truly casted the game’s global eye on the country. India has always showed potential, but never has a player managed to leave such a long lasting mark on the golfing landscape.
The likes of Arjun Atwal have won on the PGA Tour and Jeev Milkha Singh has been one of the more consistent performers, in terms of international representation. But, Lahiri stupendous effort has seen him jump to the front of the pack.
Growth of Golf in India
Despite the challenges, Lahiri is optimistic about golf’s growth in India. He said, “Competition is getting better every day in the country, the tour is very strong as you can see so many Indian golfers competing in tournaments around the world. Young golfers such as Rashid Khan are also setting the bar.”
India might not be one of the known faces, when it comes to golf, but eight golfers in the top 450 of the world surely helps them make their presence felt. Rahil Gangjee, Lahiri’s compatriot, who has been a veteran of the Asian Tour said, “It has the Indians excited, it’s a good way to start the year for the Indian players.”
Lahiri attributes his success to the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI), “There is a lot of competition in the PGTI. It’s where I learned to compete and I don’t think there could have been a better place.
Speaking about the Indian golf scenario, Lahiri added, “The depth is much better now. When I started off, there were just 10-12 players hitting under par. Now you go to the top tournaments, you can see at least 25-30 players registering under par scores.”
Lack of Sponsorship in the early years
That being said, sponsorship has not come easy for Lahiri. An Army kid, Lahiri started playing on defence courses before eventually graduating to the amateur tour. He said, “when I turned pro, it was difficult, there were no sponsors form. I was not making any money as the prize money from different tournaments were being reinvested to fund my participation in other tournaments.”
Lahiri added, “But, I don’t regret that, you need to do what you have to do to better yourself. In 2011, Hero Motocorp, sponsored me and helped me attend tournaments.
The influx of sponsorship has helped him take his game to the next level. If you notice his career trajectory, it was in 2012 that Lahiri started to stand out. A tied 31st position at the 2012 Open Championship, which is a Grand-Slam equivalent for the sport highlighted Lahiri’s growth within a year of garnering sponsorship.
All his major victories including the Panasonic Open and Venetian Macau Open came post sponsorhip. “Sponsorship and the Panasonic Open victory opened up a lot of doors in my career.”
Dismissing the notion of golf being an ‘elitist’ sport
The entire notion of golf being an elitist sport has always had a direct link with the sport being accessible to young kids around the country. However, players such as Lahiri are proving that wrong one step at a time. He said,” Most of the top golfers in the country have had access to golf courses because of either being in the defence or services. So, you don’t necessarily have to be rich to be good at the sport. However, golf clubs have to do much more.”
Lahiri went onto add that, an emphasis on juniors being involved within the club system that will allow more players to do well.
With Golf being included in the 2016 Rio Olympics, the government should look at investing more into a sport, which has already established a talent base. Lahiri, who will be competing at the World Golf Championship in Miami next weekend is relishing the prospect of representing India at the Olympics.
He said, “Now that I have booked my European Tour status, I am looking to make it into the PGA. It’s also every sportsperson’s dream to represent India at the Olympics, I hope I’m selected to do so.”
With Golf showing sparks of growth in India, Anirban Lahiri could be the perfect flag-bearer for the sport at the 2016 Rio Olympics.