India’s highest ranked golfer and Bangalore boy Anirban Lahiri looks back at the moments that shaped his career even as he looks ahead to the Philippine Open and his marriage
Anirban Lahiri, India’s highest ranked golfer, is on a roll. At the Indonesian Open recently, the Bangalorean won his fourth Asian Tour title, and first abroad. His consistent performances have made him the toast of Indian golf, a fine achievement for a 26-year-old. A few days before the start of his campaign at the Philippine Open, the World No. 64 spoke to MetroPlus on the events and moments which have helped to shape his career.
When I was 14, I missed a chance to represent India in the Asia-Pacific squad. At the time, it felt like a kick in the stomach. However, because I did well at the trials, I was sent to a national camp, where I first met Vijay Divecha. This was way back in 2001. The setback turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Vijay, who is now my coach, has also been my friend, philosopher and guide over the last 13 years.
When I finished school, I had to decide whether or not to focus on golf. I chose golf. I decided to move from Hyderabad, where my family lived, to Bangalore. I was 17 then. I lived at Bidadi, because it was close to the Eagleton Golf Course, which was where Vijay was based. I lived alone, and did the cooking, cleaning and everything else on my own. This was an important phase; I learnt to deal with a lot of things, both on and off the golf course. Simple things like laundry and cooking taught me some important life-lessons. When you are worried about a dirty house, or how to cook a good meal, a double bogey on the course does not faze you. I had to man up early in life and this helped me mature quickly on the golf course too.
Out of depth
Having moved to Eagleton, I noticed huge improvements in my game. My coach and I, therefore, decided that I should turn professional one year earlier than planned. The initial years were a struggle. I had come off a very good amateur career, so expectations were high. In my first year, I managed to get a country exemption to play on the Asian Tour. I played about eight events, but barely made a cut or two.
I was just a young kid. I was totally out of my depth. The Asian Tour was like being dropped in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I had no idea what to do with myself. Everything was different, the food, weather, time-zones, courses. I remember thinking I cannot play here. These guys are so good.”
Until 2009, when I won my first pro title, I had to pay for everything. Whatever money I got from winning in India, I would use to compete on the Asian Tour. At the end of the year, I would look at my bank balance, and not like what I saw. In 2008, I was scheduled to play in Brunei and Thailand. I realised that I did not have enough money to play these tournaments. I played a tournament in Kolkata first, where I had to finish in the top-five. If I had a bad finish, I would have had to withdraw from the Brunei and Thailand events. Thankfully, I finished second. In 2009, my first win (Haryana Open) relieved a lot of pressure. I managed to land some sponsorships as well.
An up and down phase
The year 2010 was a struggle. Mentally, I was not at peace, I could not focus. I barely kept my Asian Tour card that year. The following year was good, because I won my first Asian Tour title at the Panasonic Open in Delhi. It was an important moment; it released the pressure. After the Panasonic Open victory, I had an unimpressive season, and finished well down the Order of Merit. A bit of complacency and comfort had crept in.
Consistency brings rewards
At the end of 2011, I took stock of my game and realised that I could not be satisfied with just a few victories. The key was to become consistent. Thanks to this new focus, I had a fantastic 2012. I finished 10th in the Asian Tour Order of Merit. I played some of my best golf at the 2012 British Open. I finished 31st, just three shots short of a top-10 spot. A couple of good putts - that was all that stopped me from finishing ninth. The best players in the world were here. This was my first time at the British Open, and I beat many former world champions. Imagine how much confidence I gained from this. In the locker room, Vijay Singh (Fiji's former World No.1) came up to me and said: ‘Great stuff.’ It felt great.
As good as the best
When I compared my game to the world’s best golfers at the British Open, I found that there was not much of a difference. This gave me perspective; it was a moment of realisation. All of us watch these guys do amazing things on television. You tend to believe that they are superhuman; you make them larger than life. But, when you play against them, you understand they can also make mistakes. The confidence that I gained from this realisation proved to be priceless.
A good year
Last year was a phenomenal one. I won three Asian Tour titles and finished the season in third-spot on the Order of Merit.
I reached a level of consistency that every player strives for. In the past I have become complacent, but I will not allow it to happen again. I want to get into the top-50, play more PGA events, play more Majors, and do well in the Olympics. These are things that will take me to the next level. This is not the time to sit back and enjoy my success.
Another huge event is I am going to get married in a month. The importance of this occasion can be written about in the future tense.