Resetting his targets

Resetting his targets

Golf : After a tough season when he battled injuries, Anirban Lahiri is planning carefully for the future

Resetting his targets

Sport is all about moving forward and with every stride comes heavier expectations. As golfer Anirban Lahiri kept soaring from one high to another over the last three years, hopes kept growing and the 29-year-old felt the full weight of it as he found the going extremely tough on his maiden PGA Tour season this year.

When Lahiri secured his PGA card for 2015-16 late last year though the Tour — the feeder tour — following an immensely successful season where he won two European Tour titles  and a stunning tied-fifth finish at the PGA Championship, he instantly attracted plenty of eyeballs not just from India but from the golfing world.

His selection to the President’s Cup — Lahiri was the first Indian to earn that honour — and consistent performances while criss-crossing the globe almost every other week meant he just couldn’t escape the spotlight. Although it was not new to him, the strenuous travel, demands of competitive golf and lack of rest began to take a toll on him as he just couldn’t get the desired results, thanks in part to shoulder and neck injuries. A best finish of sixth and missing the cuts at the final two Majors has now sent him back to the drawing board. 

“Yes, I don’t think I have lived up to my own expectations,” Lahiri, who is lying 119th in the Fedex Cup ranking, admitted during a short visit to Bengaluru last week. “I’ve had a terrible ‘Major’ season. But it was a difficult year to start because I had to transition full time to America.

 I played a lot more events in the first six months than I’ve ever done in my career. That’s kind of what led to my injury. I’ve played so much golf from August 2014 all the way until now, it was like non-stop. I think that caught up with me. Having said that, I’ve got myself into good positions in a number of events but the showing in the weekend was bad which was extremely disappointing. I’m still looking forward to next year very positively. If I can keep my status in America, I give myself an opportunity to get back into the top-50 and a crack at the big events. It’s been disappointing but not like I’ve wasted it -- it’s been a big learning experience for me.”

Lahiri, a notoriously slow starter, refused to blame the injury for his dip in form. “The thing is I don't like to make excuses. It's never been in my nature to blame poor performance on something else. I know what pain and what issues I played with but I still went to Rio (Olympics) because I believed that even with my limitations, if I could chip and putt well, I could still hope for a medal. My issue with the shoulder was hitting the golf ball. I could still putt and chip without pain. That's why I went to Rio. Just because I played badly I'm not going to say I was injured. But it does affect you. But people have won tournaments being injured. I don't think it's a valid excuse.”

Although he hasn’t tasted success this season, the Florida-based Lahiri has made the best use of his maiden season in America. While he wanted to cut down his travel, he listened to Arjun Atwal’s advice of playing at every possible event so as to get a feel of the conditions that would make him better prepared for the next season. 

“One of the things that happen in the US is that a lot of times, the sponsors change, the name of the tournaments change but the courses remain the same. You end up going back to the same course for decades. That’s one of the biggest challenges. Firstly to play the courses and secondly all these guys have played there before -- some of them 10 times. It’s a big disadvantage but it will get better next year. I’ve always been a slow starter. Even on the PGTI, it took two years before I won. Asian Tour took me four. I guess European Tour was different but even there, the events that I won were events in Asia and on courses where I had played before. As the familiarity increases, my performances get better. 

“In the US, the grass varies completely from one region to another. One has to make massive technical adjustments. For a lot of the guys born in US, they know what to do where. Many times, you know you made a good attempt but the result is not as you desired. And it puts pressure on your short game. That’s the difference between Europe and US because in Europe you more or less have similar grass. Also the fields are a lot deeper. Without being disrespectful, in a field of 140 in Europe you have 50 guys who can win. In America, there are about 100 guys who can win. That’s the depth of the field. One shot in America could mean change of 15 positions as opposed to six in Europe. That’s the hardest part of America.”

Wiser with experience, Lahiri is keeping his cards close to his chest. Not willing to rush his battered body, the urbane pro said he’s looking forward to a positive 2017. “The immediate focus is to get back to 100 per cent fitness. I’m gonna be very cautious in making my return to competitive golf. The last thing I want do in my eagerness to get back early is aggravate my injury that’s beginning to heal. The primary focus is to get back to prime fitness.

The other thing is I’m planning to cut down on my events towards the end of the year. I’m looking at decent downtime in November-December where I will work on my mental and physical aspect. Technically, Vijay (Divecha) sir and me have got a very good system going. We see each other quite frequently. He’s likely to come and spend a few weeks with me in US in the winter. I just want to make sure, come 2017, I bring my ‘A’ game, ‘A’ body and ‘A’ mind to the tournaments.”

If Lahiri can bring his ‘A’ game to the course, he certainly can script plenty of success that made him the current face of Indian golf. 

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