Back in swing of things

Golf

There’s isn’t a sportsperson in the world who hasn’t experienced a slump in form. Anirban Lahiri, who not too long ago was India’s numero uno golfer and sole representative on the PGA Tour, got a taste of it in the 2018-19 season. In 23 Tour events which he took part since last October, he missed the cut in nine and recorded just one top-10 and two top-25 finishes.

“It’s the worst golf I’ve played my entire life,” admitted the 32-year-old old. The disastrous outings saw him lose his card but the gritty Bengalurean redeemed himself by retaining his playing rights following fine performances in the Korn Ferry Tour.

In a chat with DH, just a day before he was rushing to his Palm Beach Gardens residence in Florida to help evacuate his family following Hurricane Dorian threat, Lahiri revealed what went wrong with his game, the corrections he made in the nick of time and goals for the 2019-20 season. Excerpts.

This has been a very difficult season for you, considering the number of cuts missed, the poor finishes and subsequently losing your card...

I was very inconsistent this year. I, obviously, was very low on confidence. Even in the tournaments that I made the cut, I didn’t play well on the weekends. I didn’t really make the most of it. In golf usually you ride your highs and make the most of it. But even when I got some momentum I didn’t really roll with it and somehow managed to lose it. It was the story of the year. If you are always constantly looking to build momentum it can be very difficult.

Was it a case of trying too hard and then faltering?

I don’t think so. I think it’s a case of just building up a certain level of consistency which was missing. That makes it that much harder. You then start chasing something that’s not there and it becomes more elusive.

How much of it was to do with your game? Which facet of it did you err in?

Most of my issues were off the tee. That’s where 90 percent of my issues were. Then the weeks that I putted well, I managed to come in with a decent score. Whenever I didn’t putt well, it was difficult to put a decent score together. Where this stands out is when you don’t have a lot of low scores — the 65s, 66s. That is a clear indication something in the game is not at the level where it needs to be. If you look at how my scoring patterns were, they were very inconsistent. My good scores were not 67s or 68s, they were all 73s and 74s. That’s a sign it’s not cohesive.

Lots of players go through such dip in form. How did you deal with the ordeal?

You have to go back to the basics. Go back to thinking what was it that I did well, what are the things I need to do to go back to be able to shoot good scores. Primarily, you have to kind of look at different aspects and break them down individually and attack it individually. In my case it was also a case of travel which set my body back a bit. I missed a few events which put pressure on me when I came back. When you are not playing and trying to build confidence, it works against you. That’s when you start overanalysing things about you. For me, I asked (coach) Vijay (Divecha) to come down. He came out mid July and we did a lot of work. He found out that a lot of inconsistencies had crept it. I had made some equipment changes last year and they hadn’t suited me as well as I had hoped for. That also affected my game.

What sort of changes did Divecha bring in?

Different kinds of swing issues had crept in. We went back to just sorting that out and making sure that I was doing the basics right, the fundamentals right. For our level, as funny as it may sound, 90 percent of the time it’s all fundamental stuff. When you get the fundamentals wrong, it becomes really difficult. We worked a lot on my fundamentals. We worked on my mental make-up because I was putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself. I was getting in my own way sometimes. We worked on that also.

So how did you feel securing your Tour card after such a turbulent ride?

I felt relieved to be honest. I know that I should be playing on the PGA Tour. I know I should be doing better. I never even thought that coming into these three events (Korn Ferry Tour Finals), I would not keep my card. I was just focused on playing golf and not really worrying about the result. That’s the kind of focus I should have had earlier in the year. That’s the kind of focus and clarity I brought in these three weeks. That’s why it’s helped me.

Now that you’ve regained your card and focus, what are the goals for the season ahead?

The goals are pretty simple. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing right now. I’m able to concentrate, I’m able to just focus on what I need to do on the golf course. I wasn’t able to do last year. That’s the focus I need to bring when I go back. I need to approach it with the same kind of attitude which was missing.

You played all four majors in 2015 and 16. You could play just one this year. How disappointing is it?

Of course. You want to be playing every major, giving yourself as many opportunities as you can. But then when you don’t play well enough to put yourself in that position, you can’t complain at that. You have to earn your place. I lost my card. I learnt a lot of lessons last year and now basically I’m earning my place on tour.

Next year is the Olympics but you are way off the qualifying mark. Will you be chasing it?

Honestly, I’m not even thinking about it right now. I just need to focus on my golf right now. I just need to go and keep playing my best. As long as I can do it, the rest of it will take care of itself. I’m not thinking about it because there’s still a long way to go — 8-9 months. I’ve had 8-9 months period where I’ve played my worst golf in the last decade. There’s every chance that I can turn my game around and play my best golf. I have to think of it like that and approach it like that.

You are the sole Indian on the PGA Tour now. How lonely does it feel?

When you are on tour (Asian), you have people around who actually care about you. They kind of help you out which is definitely missing here. One of the ways to fix it is to get Shubhankar (Sharma) play well and get his card up which is what I’m telling him to do (laughs). On a serious note, it can be very lonely, you have to stay very focused. For me now, having become a dad, I’m pretty busy all the time. It’s a lot harder here when you are by yourself. It’s quite lonely but you have to deal with the challenges.

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