If ANIRBAN Lahiri played cricket instead of golf, there’s little doubt he would be mobbed for autographs. Ranked world number 47, the just-turned 28-year-old Lahiri has shown that India is capable of producing world class golfers. Though it’s not always roses all the way. The recently-concluded US Open which Jordan Spieth won, also saw Lahiri’s exit at the halfway stage. Posting on a social media site, Vijay Divecha, Lahiri’s coach of 14 years and who accompanied him, writes, “But we live to fight another day. Jai Hind.” Lahiri agrees and says, “Some days, you can do all the right things but they don’t work. You must remain equanimous, convert your weaknesses into strengths, especially when you do it for a living. It’s finally about the grey area between one’s ears.” His Vipassana training helps.
I remember watching Lahiri as a focused teenager on tournament courses. Little has changed. He wears his remarkable achievements lightly, remaining the same likeable ‘probashi Bengali’ [a Bengali born and brought up outside of Bengal] and 100 per cent army kid, as he describes himself. He loves Bengali food, and like all good Bengali men cooks up a mean mangsho curry when there’s time during the mere 80 odd days he spends in India. Married last year, he calls his wife Ipsa a ‘fab cook.’ “When I eat ghar ka khana I’m a happy puppy.” When Lahiri opted to turn professional in 2007, he broke with tradition. “In my bhadralok Bengali family, I’m the black sheep. Everyone else is hugely well-educated and cultured,” he laughs and tells us.
Lahiri started golf seriously at 13 and has gone from strength to strength, with a particularly stellar year in 2014. Beside his marriage, he’s pulled off amazing wins which have propelled him into the world top 50 and gets him playing all four majors this year. Today, he’s practising alongside Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy without batting an eyelid. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit wide-eyed being with them all at first,” he admits, “but after five years internationally, I now consider myself one of the guys. Mentally you need to believe you’re as good as any of them on the day or you’re finished.”
Golf is growing, but India’s a long way from becoming a golf champ-producing nation like the USA, or even close to rapidly-growing powerhouses like Korea, China, Australia. “Jeev (Milkha Singh), Jyoti (Randhawa) Shiv (Kapur) and others – we’ve got there despite the system, not because of it,” he points out. “Golf needs a major image makeover from the elitist spot it’s perceived at being. For one, we need television audiences, great marketing and sponsors – yes, look at kabaddi – to catch the public imagination. A Golf Premier League with promising youngsters and established players like us, plus players from abroad would help make a nice slick product,” he notes. Great idea.
The starting block is preparation for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. “If just one of us gets an Olympic medal, we can do for golf what Saina Nehwal is doing for badminton. Rio is like the goose which can lay the golden egg. Here’s the chance to glorify something other than oneself – one’s country. We can finally put golf on the India map,” Lahiri says.