Hong Kong: Viraj Madappa, who will spearhead India's challenge at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (ACC) golf tournament starting Wednesday, feels Anirban Lahiri's exploits will definitely act as an inspiration for him and his countrymates in Hong Kong.
The 17-year-old Kolkata-boy, the highest ranked Indian amateur and the fourth best in this field of 120, will be hoping to make his third appearance at the AAC count when he tees up tomorrow in the company of two other youngsters, who are ranked higher than him.
With place at the Masters at stake Madappa is hoping to emulate Lahiri, who made his debut and made the cut at the Masters this year. Jeev Milkha Singh and Arjun Atwal are the only other Indians to have teed up at the Augusta.
"Getting a chance to play for a berth in the Masters or the Open is a huge incentive," says the six-foot-two Madappa. "The achievements of Anirban Lahiri are a big incentive for all us and he is a role model of sorts for all upcoming players," he added.
Besides Madappa, 23-year-old Samarth Dwivedi, who has vast experience including playing at the Asian Games in 2014, is another Indian bet in the tournament.
Dwivedi was born in Allahabad, but honed his skills in Thailand, where his parents were based and is now playing regularly in India. Fairly successful on domestic circuit, he is making his debut at the AAC.
The prize for the winner and even runner-up is quite attractive. The winner gets a ticket to the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta and both the winner and runner-up will be eligible to compete in the Open qualifying series, Asia or Australasia for the 2016 Open Championship and the winner also gets an invite to the 2016 Qatar Masters.
The Indian team Manager, AK Singh, accompanying the team, added, "He (Madappa) does have the ability to contend for the title and is very talented."
Despite working on a new swing with his coach Indrajit Bhalotia, a well-known pro till a few years ago, Madappa is hoping to substantially improve the finishes at AAC on his previous two appearances ¿ he was Tied-34 in 2013 and Tied-59 last year, is coming in after a fine win in 2015 Taiwan Amateur Championships this June.
Madappa also played the Asia-Pacific Mistubishi Diamond Professional event last week in Japan, but missed the cut. He has improved great deal since last year's Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships having won seven times since then, including the Taiwan Amateur title.
The other five Indians in the team include Dwivedi, who has loads of experience, Aman Raj, current leader on Indian Golf Union's Merit list and India's second best in 2014 Asia-Pacific Karandeep Kochhar, Priyanshu Singh and Veer Ahlawat.
While Australian Antonio Murdaca gushed about his experience at the Masters playing alongside Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott in the first round, teen prodigy and 2012 winner Guan Tianlang of China wants to win the AAC once again and get back to Augusta, where he became the youngest ever to make the cut in 2013.
Australian Ryan Ruffels, son of former Davis Cup tennis player Ray Ruffels, but who was born in Florida, starts the event as the highest ranked amateur in the field at No. 8. At the same time, Murdaca wants to have another taste of the Masters before giving pro golf a serious thought. The same is the case with Guan, who has fallen outside Top-100 in World Amateur rankings.
Apart from Guan, past champions include two-time champion Japanese Hideki Matsuyama, now one of the leading players in the world, who is in Top-10 and has finished in top-20 of all four majors after turning professional in 2013.