Anirban, Aditi turn flag-bearers for India

Anirban, Aditi turn flag-bearers for India

Two Bengalureans were at the forefront while the support cast too played its role to a nicety as Indian golf enjoyed another glorious outing, the niche sport continuing to churn out champions year after year.

Both Anirban Lahiri — the established star — and Aditi Ashok — a sparkling diamond in the making — dished out spectacular performances in demanding circumstances to not only walk with applause at home but earn plaudits from some of the game’s global stars.

After a superb 2014 that saw him emerge as the country’s No 1 golfer by a mile, Lahiri carried enormous hopes into this season and the 28-year-old exceeded everyone’s expectations as he went about collecting one feather after another to decorate his cap.

He kick-started the season in perfect fashion, scoring a superb victory in the Mayank Malaysian Open (co-sanctioned with European Tour) for his maiden overseas international title in early February. Two weeks later, Lahiri added the most memorable and sought after jewel to his collection, registering a stunning win in the Hero Indian Open at the Delhi Golf Club.

Trailing round three leader SSP Chawrasia by seven shots, Lahiri shot a final-round three-under 69 to force a play-off with his compatriot and secured victory after a draining a birdie on the first extra hole. The manner of that come-from-nowhere win spurred him on and he rarely wavered in a path-breaking season.

He became the second Indian after the great Jeev Milkha Singh to compete in all the four majors in a calendar year, that included a stunning tied-fifth finish at the PGA Championship — the best performance by anyone from the country at a Major.

He also emerged as the only from the country to have played in all the four World Golf Championship events and while his performances there weren’t spectacular, stints at the prestigious events helped him mature into a much better golfer as the season progressed. He also earned a spot in the President’s Cup — the first Indian to achieve that feat — where his ‘A’ game deserted him.

Towards the end of the year, Lahiri was caught in two minds on whether to secure playing rights for the PGA Tour or move up the prize money list on the European Tour. He chose the former and his risk bore fruit as he earned full playing rights for the 2016 season on the PGA Tour.

Lahiri also realised another childhood dream of his, annexing the Asian Tour Order of Merit title after finishing the season with earnings of $1,139,084, well ahead of second-placed Scott Hend.

Just like Lahiri, Aditi too turned most things she touched into gold to share the spotlight. One of the most consistent amateur golfers in the country, the 17-year-old prodigy capped a sizzling season on a spectacular note when she scored a career-defining victory in the Ladies European Tour’s Lalla Aicha Final Qualifying School event at Marrakech, Morocco.

She thus became the first Indian — both men and women — to win a Q-School event that confirmed her full season ticket for the 2016 LET. Earlier in the year, she had emerged victorious in the St Rule’s Trophy and Ladies British Amateur Open Strokeplay Championships.

Lahiri and Aditi apart, the only other Indian to achieve international success was Chiragh Kumar. The 31-year-old, who had come close a few times but failed to finish the job, finally got it done at the Panasonic Open to end nearly a decade of title drought.

Lahiri’s protege S Chikkarangappa, who successfully retained the TAKE Solutions India Masters title -- an Asian Development Tour event -- in emotional fashion, put behind a somewhat disappointing Asian Tour campaign by clinching the Order of Merit crown on the domestic PGTI tour. At 22 years, he became the youngest to do so.

Fellow youngsters Rashid Khan, Khalin Joshi and Shubhankar Sharma --  all considered the next in the supply chain -- had their moments under the sun too.

This year didn’t produce multiple winners like the last one but the exploits of Lahiri and Aditi lent a special touch.

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