Nassau (Bahamas): Anirban Lahiri has neither won a Major title nor a PGA Tour title. He only has a PGA Tour card for 2016, and yet he is commanding the kind of attention that few new young golfers from Asia would.
In a field of 18 elite golfers, including five Majors winners, who have eight Majors and 92 PGA Tour titles between them, Lahiri has managed to hold his own. He has been praised by Tiger Woods, who hosts the US $3.5 million Hero World Challenge, the only professional golf event in the US sponsored by an Indian corporate. And Lahiri has also been paired with World No 1 Jordan Spieth on the Indian's debut in this star-studded field.
That is both a measure of expectations from Lahiri and also PGA Tour's wish to attract new audiences in Asia and India in particular.' Tiger Woods, who last year played a handful of holes with Lahiri at the Delhi Golf Club, gushed about the rise of Lahiri, who has been in demand not only among the Indian media but also the mainline US golf media.
Lahiri's excellent articulation and pleasant demeanour have won him a bunch of local fans. The ease with which he has blended with the American golf environment, while staying grounded augurs well for the coming year, when he plays his first full season in the United States.
There are millions of Indians in the US and it is not uncommon to see Indians turn up at PGA Tour events and Majors. When they see an Indian in the field, there is an understandable sense of bonding. Lahiri's fifth place at the PGA Championship added to that.As the Olympics loom large and the game expands, golf has a great chance to grow its base. As Woods opined, Lahiri's arrival on PGA and possible success at Olympics could lead to an explosion of golf in India.
Little wonder then the PGA Tour, which sanctions this limited field event, has paired Lahiri with Spieth for the first round, making it one of the marquee groups, which translates to focused TV coverage. While Spieth is the defending champion who went on to win his first two Majors in 2015 and is now the World No 1, Lahiri has his own followers.
Lahiri's breakout season has included a fifth-place finish at the PGA Championship, a Presidents Cup appearance and two worldwide victories in Malaysian Open and Hero Indian Open. Lahiri understands that his success could usher in a new era for Indian and even Asian golf. Yet, he is not weighed down by the expectations. On the contrary he relishes the opportunities he is getting.
"Last year I did play quite a few events in the US, but a majority of them were either Majors (three out of four) or World Golf Championships (also three out of four). But to be able to play a full season as a member is what I had really wanted. That's why I even opted to play the Web.com Final series. It worked well as I got my card," says Lahiri.
He played all four Majors last year and is likely to do so again in 2016 and they had the best fields. Another marquee group includes Bahamas residents Justin Rose and Adam Scott. Rose is No 5 in the rankings while Scott has shown improved form in events outside US last few starts.
He comes off consecutive Top-5 finishes at Australian Masters and Australian Open. The third marquee group will be the pairing of Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler. Two-time Masters winner Watson was a late addition to the field after Jason Day pulled out. This year Watson won the WGC-HSBC and Travelers Championship. Fowler won THE PLAYERS Championship and Deutsche Bank besides the Scottish Open.
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