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Golf: Celebrations for Anirban Lahiri as he becomes India's best finisher

Lahiri finishes tied fifth in PGA C'ship to become India’s best finisher at a Major

Knocking on the door is something that Jason Day knows a thing or two about. He knocked on the doors of Majors nine times by finishing in Top-10 before the door finally opened on the 10th time on Sunday at Whistling Straits in the 2015 PGA Championships. The story of Jason Day, who lost his father at 12 and came back from the brink of disaster – getting drunk and into fights in his pre-teen year – is a story for ages.

Also Read: Lahiri back in World's Top-40, certain for President's Cup

India's Anirban Lahiri during the Round Three of PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin on Saturday. Pic/AFP
India's Anirban Lahiri during the Round Three of PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin on Saturday. Pic/AFP 

Anirban Lahiri knows a thing or two about knocking on the doors. And he has also been an epitome of self-belief. It has also been self-belief laced liberally with patience and determination.

Also Read: Jeev Milkha Singh hails Lahiri's tied-fifth finish at PGA Championship

Lahiri had a secure and happy childhood. Son of an Army doctor, who introduced him to golf and encouraging mother who made sure he did not lack in any facilities. He was not an obsessive golfer to begin with, but grew to love the sport into his early teens and became one of the brighter prospects on the national scene. He neither lacked skills, nor support, which always seemed by his side, but what he did not have was patience and calm.

Also Read: Asian Tour praises Lahiri for top-5 finish at PGA

He allowed things to get to him and it manifested in mistakes on the course and in less-than-satisfactory scorecards. Then he discovered he virtues of patience, through Vipassana meditation. With it came determination and self-belief. His marriage to Ipsa last year added to the stability and maturity it is beginning to show.

On Sunday, soon after re-writing a bunch of records in Indian golf including registering the best-ever finish at a Major by an Indian to the first Top-5 at a Major by an Indian to other achievements by an Indian golfer like the best-ever total in relation to par and becoming the first to shoot four-sub par rounds.

He also returns to World's Top-40 and is now almost a certainty for the International team for President's Cup. He also leads the Asian Order of Merit, which has been won by the 'Big Three' of Indian golf – Jyoti Randhawa, Arjun Atwal and Jeev Milkha Singh (twice). He is also eighth on the European List. So, saying the whole world is opening up for Anirban Lahiri would not be out of place.

Keeping his feet firmly on ground, Lahiri never gives the impression of over stating. Asked how it felt to achieve the best Major finish by an Indian, "It feels great. It's a bit of a relief, really. I've never really gotten into contention. I won't really say I was in contention here, because I was a long ways out. But I was in the mix. It's a great feeling."

So he knew he was there (near the top) and yet he wasn't there because the gap was a bit much between him and top-two.

What he did gain most from PGA? Rise in ranking? Points? Money? Inclusion into the elite zone? Maybe, all of it! But he chooses to say, "A massive amount of confidence, knowing that I can be out here mixing it up with the best, knowing that I need to get just a little bit better to maybe get closer or over the line in the future. So it's been a huge week for me." Maturity has a new model in Indian sport.

So, when and how did this transformation happen? From being a prospect to a potential to a star at National and continental level to now… who knows at a global level. No, it was not overnight. It was a work in progress, and even now it is so and it shall remain so — in Lahiri's mind — till he reaches the very top.

From mid-teens to almost 20 years of age, Lahiri stayed amateur – played for India at all levels. At Asian Games, at Eisenhower Cup, at Nomura Cup and so on. Then he after careful thinking he turned pro and learnt winning there was not as easy as among amateurs. This was serious stuff.

He turned pro in 2007 but it was not until April 2009 that he would get his first pro win. Six wins followed in next 16 months, but all in India. Then the next door opened.

He won at Delhi Golf Club, a course that was never generous to him as an amateur. He learnt how to be patient and even eschewed the use of his driver – remember he is a long driver and won the Long Drive last week at Whistling Straits! He won his first Asian Tour title in 2011 and added two more, one each in 2012 and 2013. All three wins were in India and at DGC. "I wouldn't mind playing every week here," he would say then. Now he doesn't mind playing anywhere.

Chiragh Kumar, his teammate from 2006 Asian Games and close friend, says, "The first big change happened in Indonesia last April, when he won Indonesian Masters. Few months later he added the Macau Open. I think, winning abroad gave him tremendous self-belief and he has not looked back since."

So, the kitty now had five Asian Tour titles, three in India, two outside. Next Stop: European Tour.

The big breakthrough happened this year in February when he beat classy field at Kuala Lumpur at Malaysian Open and then in Hero Indian Open in New Delhi. Both in span of three weeks. Good things come in bunches. Birdies or titles.

Now the next door opened – this one to Europe and PGA. An entry into World's Top-50 meant entry into Majors and WGC and a few invites to PGA Tour events and a lot of big-ticket European events.

No, there have been no immediate events. The baby steps have been taken. The 'bank of experience' – as he calls it time and again – is swelling, as is his main bank accounts with handsome cheques all over.

What next is the obvious question. Will this result of Top-5 burden him or pressurise him?

He does not hesitate to answer, "No, I don't think so. I think this is more of a pressure reliever than anything else. I don't mean pressure from the media or people back home, pressure from myself. Because I know I'm good enough to compete out here. But I've not seen anything that would suggest that. And this week kind of puts that to rest and I can come out here and play more freely, not having to prove anything to myself."

Breaking it down to simplest denominator, he adds, "I putted a lot better Sunday. But it's obviously the scoring aspect that I feel is lacking a little bit. I think that's where I need to tighten it up, just around the greens and make a few more 10- and 12-footers. That should do the trick."

Now, we wait for the next trick – and the next door to open – the door to the Majors.

Just like the way, daylight peeped out from the cracks of the door for Jason Day. So, it shall for Anirban Lahiri. The only difference is, Lahiri knows it will. He has the patience and determination.

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