In finishing as runner-up to Cameron Smith at the 2022 Players Championship, Anirban Lahiri not only laid to rest two years of inconsistent performances – which had seen him drop out the world’s top 100 – it also reestablished the 34-year-old Pune-born pro as one of the leading flag bearers for golf in India.
In a land of extreme inequality, Lahiri has taken it on himself to promote golf as an arena where people of different social backgrounds can play and achieve on the same level, and where aspirations and ambitions can be made real.
RSNG You seem to be in a position where you’re becoming one of your country’s sporting heroes, as you would expect of India’s number one golfer. Is this a pressure you enjoy?
ANIRBAN LAHIRI, INDIA’S GOLFING ICON “Well I would perhaps suggest I am not quite in that position, but it is nice when people look up to you and your achievements, and can recognise the effort you have put in to try to get to a certain level.
“Certainly I have dedicated a lot of my life to golf, and it hasn’t always been easy, so to feel that recognition is nice; yet a big part of me feels that while I play the game for myself, ultimately what I am giving is hope to others.”
RSNG In what sense?
ANIRBAN LAHIRI “Well, when I was growing up I was always looking to the likes of Jeev Milkha Singh and Jyoti Randhawa as sportsmen representing our great country on the international scene. I think of Arjun Atwal as well, the first player born in India to play on the PGA Tour and win.
“These were incredible figures who had made it from the dusty golf courses to the top of the game, and that was an incredible thing to witness.
“Naturally I now feel a desire to want to be that person young players look up to and can learn from. I am taking on roles that involve and encourage the next generation, and it’s fantastic to pass it forward.”
In India, you will never see children allowed onto most golf courses, and there is no real junior program where excellence can be spotted and nurtured – there is a lot to do!
RSNG It’s well known that India courts its sporting heroes as if they were gods. You must feel like you have come a very long way?
ANIRBAN LAHIRI “Well I come from a very humble background – my father is a retired army officer and my mother is still a teacher. My early days understanding golf courses involved picking up balls where my father was playing on a very basic course in Pune.
“There are obviously some amazing courses in India, but the vast majority suffer from a lack of investment, and even a lack of land, which many people find surprising.
“Since I was young, not much has really improved as far as recreational golf goes. A lot more needs to happen in terms of growing the game at a grassroots and school level, and certainly in terms of infrastructure. There need to be many more public golf courses and driving ranges, and a policy from the Government where children are at least introduced to the sport – many just fall into it by accident and that is not good enough.
“In India, you will also never see children allowed onto most golf courses, and there is no real junior program where excellence can be spotted and nurtured; so there is a lot to do! I am in touch with the government and we are working on initiatives that can really move things forward from a grassroots level.
“What I will say is at least we are talking about it, which is the best way to start; and I feel that's something that gathers pace the more I am able to finish well in tournaments.”
RSNG Having come from a humble, simple background, how does it feel to be competing for these huge purses?
ANIRBAN LAHIRI “For me, golf isn’t about prize money, but on a social level I think it is important. Obviously the numbers are crazy, particularly when you come from somewhere where just a little bit of money can lead you a long way; but more than that I want people to look at golf and to be encouraged to get their sons or daughters involved, because even on a local level the rewards are there. And motivating people to take up the sport means more participation and growth.
“What I would say is sometimes the numbers are misleading because there are a lot of things that have to be deducted from prize money. A lot of it gets shared around, and sometimes you go through long periods where you may not be earning any money at all, and that is tough to take.”
It doesn’t matter what the quality of the golf course is or even what the weather conditions are – the brief is strict, and it’s to neutralize all those things in my head.
RSNG You’ve spoken recently about regaining a positive mindset, and reconnecting with principles that served you well earlier in your career?
ANIRBAN LAHIRI “Yes, mindset is something that I've been working on now for a while.
“We have a team, I have my team performance coach that I work with, and we've been trying to be very consistent with how I approach all my tournaments, all my routines, all my processes.
“The secret to this is consistency, and ensuring I have the same repetitiveness no matter what the situation is. So it doesn’t matter whether I’m playing a $20million tournament or $100,000 tournament – it’s the same process still going on, the same routines.
“It doesn’t matter what the quality of the golf course is or even what the weather conditions are – the brief is strict, and it’s to neutralize all those things in my head. The reason is because all that information is not helpful when you're playing – you just want to be in the moment, to hit the best shot, and compete to the best of your ability, with no distractions.
“I am very happy with the fact that I've been able to find that consistency again, and to bring that same level of focus regardless of where I am. I think perhaps, for a while, I lost that, and it did affect my game negatively.”
RSNG Who do you turn to for support outside of your immediate team?
ANIRBAN LAHIRI “Well as you would expect I'm very good friends with Shubhankar Sharma and we share a lot in common. His father is also a retired army officer and we go back a long way.
“Every time he plays well I'm texting him, calling him, speaking to him… even when he's not playing well. He will do the same in reverse – calling me and checking in. It’s good that we can feed off each other.
“In any walk of life you need people alongside you, even if they are your competitors!”
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