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Thursday, 05 March 2015
Read 1226 Last modified on Thursday, 05 March 2015 06:31

On November 20, 2014, Anirban Lahiri stood on a crisp afternoon in southern Spain clutching a coveted European Tour card, harbouring hopes and dreams of golfing stardom and wondering where his European odyssey would take him.

Three short months on from that successful trip to the Qualifying School, those dreams have been realised quicker than ever he could have imagined, with a brace of European Tour titles to his name and an invitation to the Masters winging its way in the post to his Bangalore home.

 No wonder, after winning the Hero Indian Open on a topsy-turvy final day in Delhi, Lahiri claimed that “the whole world is opened to me now...I’m really excited”.

 Given that a debut in the lucrative WGC-Cadillac Championship is on the horizon, followed by that maiden voyage to Augusta National, Lahiri’s excitement is entirely understandable.

 “At the start of the week, I knew that if I put in a good performance it would pretty much secure my place in the Masters,” he said. “This is fantastic, it is what dreams are made of.”

 Those dreams were first forged during a peripatetic childhood as the son of an army officer from Pune, India’s seventh-most populous city. 

  The family regularly moved around the country for the first 15 years of Lahiri’s life, a nomadic yet enriching experience which resulted not only in a broad outlook on life – “I’m really proud of the fact that I’m comfortable with different languages, cultures and food” – but also, more pertinently, a love of golf. 

 “About 70 per cent of the golf courses in India are owned and run by the army,” he explained.

“So when you’re the son of an army officer, you have access to golf courses no matter where you go. Every time my dad got posted to a new place, there would be a golf course that was within walking or cycling distance. So I just went and played golf with my dad and his friends, and that’s how it all started.”

 Thus, it was entirely fitting that the first person to embrace Lahiri following Sunday’s play-off win over SSP Chawrasia was his father Tushar, who is doubtless currently searching flights to Georgia – provided the army grant him leave, of course.

  Wife Ipsa, who was also in Delhi to congratulate her husband, will be hoping that their upcoming American adventure yields happier memories than her previous visit to a Major, last year’s Open Championship. Having cut short their honeymoon, Lahiri promptly contracted chickenpox and struggled through the first two days at Royal Liverpool, before missing the cut.

 If that was an unfortunate experience he would rather forget, Lahiri is rightly relishing his impending trip to Augusta National given the rich vein of form in which he currently finds himself.

 Having averaged six birdies per round over his four appearances on The European Tour so far this season, even the demands of Bobby Jones’ quixotic masterpiece should hold no fears for Lahiri. 

 His victories in Malaysia and on home soil – in addition to the five titles he captured on the Asian Tour – have catapulted the 27 year old above the likes of Ian Poulter to 34th place in the Official World Golf Ranking.

 Should he extend his purple patch and climb a further seven places in the coming months, Lahiri would surpass the record Jeev Milkha Singha set in March 2009, when he ascended to the heady heights of World Number 28 – the highest position occupied by an Indian player in history.

 Singh believes it is only a matter of time before more of his compatriots follow Lahiri’s lead, saying: “It’s great to see the young Indian players doing well, especially Anirban. These kids now have more knowledge and awareness about fitness, and what they need to work on.

 “They get the right guidance from their coaches, and they work hard at their games. That’s the main reason why these younger guys are doing well, and I think we will soon see many more players from India inside the world’s top 50.”

 Whilst he was quick to echo Singh’s sentiments, Lahiri was equally keen to keep his feet on terra firma.

 He said: “This is something that will take some time to sink in – I just have to stay focused and try to ride the momentum. I got a slice of luck with the leaders coming back to me, which doesn’t happen that often in your career. I just have to keep playing well and see where it takes me.

“Hopefully I’ll have more days like this in my career, but for now I’m just going to enjoy the moment. Every Indian golfer puts winning the Indian Open on their bucket list, but not many get the chance to actually tick it off. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.”

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