The New Face of Indian Golf

Between a tied 49th finish at the Masters in April, and a tied 30th at the Open in July, 28-year old Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri missed the cut at the US Open. To be fair, so did Tiger Woods. But Lahiri, one of Indian sports’ fastest rising stars, is currently a better golf player than Tiger Woods. He is a better golf player than most of them out there, as will be demonstrated by his new top-50 ranking soon. 

Lahiri played all four majors this year. Back in February, he won the Malaysian Open while coming from behind – his first victory on the European Tour. Once again, later in the month, he came from seven strokes behind in the final round in the Hero Indian Open, and then won the playoff against Shiv Chowrasia. His performance got him into the Masters, where he became only the third Indian after Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal to play the tournament. 

But the Bangalore boy wasn’t to be satisfied with these modest records. Most of the youngsters representing India in various sporting arenas these days want more. They’re not here to be one of the many at the top level; they’re here to do well and actually win big. They’re not only participants anymore, they’re winners. Much like Saina, Sindhu, Sania Mirza and so many others, Lahiri represents that attitude. He already knows he is capable of playing at the highest level, and now, he wants more. As it turns out, when Jason Day, the perennial no. 2 at most Majors, finally won his first at the PGA Championships in Wisconsin on Sunday, Anirban Lahiri capped off one of the most memorable weeks of Indian golf. Back in 2008, Jeev Milkha Singh had finished a tied 9th in this tournament. Lahiri eclipsed this incredible record and finished a tied 5th on Sunday. His 13-under score was remarkable for the way he drove the ball hard and long, through the weekend. He finished with a classic 68 in the final round, and at one point was tied for 3rd. He held on, and gave Indian golf a new identity, a new face. 

What was even more encouraging to see, from an Indian fan’s perspective, was that Lahiri wasn’t basking in his accomplishments. He actually said he was a bit disappointed with the way he dropped shots on the 18th hole repeatedly, and could have gone better than 5th if not for his final bogey. That he still sees plenty of room for improvement with his putting and scoring is noteworthy, and says a lot about his journey into the golfing elite so far. 
But for now, he must reflect on what he has achieved. He finished ahead of Rory McIlroy and many others, and 4 shots behind Jordan Spieth. He leads the Asian Tour this year, and is in the top 10 on the European Tour. And he can do even better, if he is to be believed. Don’t be surprised if you see many Indian households tuning into what they usually consider to be a ‘boring’ sport for four weekends a year, just to follow a new hero. Or kids learning to hold a golf club before a cricket bat. Or youngsters signing up to be caddies and learn more about the sport, at clubs around the country.
It begins with four weekends, and perhaps will extend to many more. That’s the power of a path breaker. Along with Badminton, it will now be Golf. 

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