Rio Olympics 2016, Golf; Anirban Lahiri, India's best hope
A pensive faced Anirban Lahiri stared down the green on the 9th hole at The Royal Latham and St. Anne’s Golf Club as he prepared to take a routine tee shot. All he wanted to do here was to play a nice approach shot so that he could attempt a relatively easy putt for a birdie at the par 3 hole. The Pune born lad was playing at the 2012 Open championship and it was his first ever appearance at a Golf Major.
Having already secured the cut with a stunning (68/72), he was not content looking to cap off the biggest sporting achievement of his life so far without a flourish.
A high backlift, that unmistakable swing and with a sharp metallic swish, the ball flew off the tee to land on the edge of the green, one bounce, two bounces, three bounces and the ball rolled into the hole. A hole in one! As high-fives flew all round backed up by a generous smattering of applause, what the world witnessed that day in Scotland was the coming of age of a new Indian sporting icon.
Golf has always been looked upon in India as more a privilege than a mainstream sport; an innocuous pastime to occupy the less productive hours of the Indian elite. The emergence of the current crop of Indian golfers though, the likes of Anirban Lahiri, Shiv Kapur and SSP Chawrasia has seen the game gradually shift from the aforementioned so called aristocracy to one that is enjoyed by more and more people from middle class sections of society.
Anirban in particular has undoubtedly been the torchbearer for the sport in India in recent times with some spectacular displays in a number of major tournaments, the unmatched high coming at the 2015 PGA Championship where he finished tied fifth, the best ever finish by an Indian professional golfer at a major.
The golf event at Rio has been marred by the pull out of some of the biggest names in golfing, your Rory McIlroys, your Jordan Spieths but it still contains stalwarts like Henrik Sienson and Bubba Watson and it is still one of the top 5 events on the golfing calendar this year. It also opens up the door for the likes of Anirban Lahiri to be real medal contenders, which going by recent results he would have been even if it had been a fully strong field.
Lahiri has been in red hot form throughout the year and it would be a just reward if all those previous results (those near misses) were to become part of the bigger scheme of things culminating with this young Indian pro winning a medal at the Olympic Games.
Lahiri is not the only one who’ll be looking to shine bright for India though. Competition and a stiff one at that, arises in form of long time friend and rival SSP Chawrasia from Kolkata. The two have been involved in some epic clashes over the years including an absolute nail biter at the Hero Indian Open in 2015 which Anirban won via a playoff as the two were tied first after 72 holes.
At Rio though, these two golfers will be each other’s strength, competing against the world first and competing against each other later highlighting the beauty of the Olympics. With the golf event starting at a later stage of the event, scheduled to start on the 11th of August, for now India’s golfing hopes were just happy to be part of the opening ceremony and the parade of the nations. As put by Anirban, “SSP and I will be part of the opening ceremony and you can’t buy that experience.”
When golf makes a much romanticised return to the Olympics after 112 years on Thursday, it is certain that a little more than just the Indian golf aficionados can be found glued to their television sets. So what would it really mean if Lahiri does manage to win a medal at Rio? As Lahiri put it himself “A medal at the Olympics will have a big impact on golf in India.”
The boy who first started training under his father Dr. Tushar Lahiri is now all set to become arguably India’s greatest golfer ever and although it is certain that a place on the podium will be a tough ask from Lahiri, what is also certain is that celebrating an Indian Olympic golf medal on Sunday, the 14th is a real possibility!