Perplexing as it may sound, Anirban Lahiri would rather leave it to the others to figure out. A top-50 player competing at The Masters but making this week’s Honda Classic via the alternates’ list might be spoken of with a shrug by his ilk; but for Anirban it is “respect”. “That I’m not there where I should be,” he remarks on not being sure of getting a spot every time he tees off in his first season on the PGA Tour.
The easy demeanour comes from the realisation that “I do not need to prove anything to anyone or myself”. The sole motive driving him is that he did not land on American soil to be a journeyman. Making the cut three of the four times he’s teed up in 2016, the start could have been far more encouraging, but that’s part of getting better as a player and the sign of playing on the biggest tour. The field has got deeper and he knows that in order to win, mistakes will need to come down drastically.
There is also a shift in terms of technique and equipment as he’s being called upon to make adjustments all the time, but the confidence is intact. “Even if I play to 25 per cent of my potential, I’ll keep my card (for next season),” he says.
Another factor that gets underplayed is the different variants of grass on offer through the season. Having encountered the difficulties, Anirban is better equipped now. “Before and after The Masters (in April 2015), I struggled but things got better after Bridgestone (World Golf Championship).” It showed as the ensuing week saw Anirban become the first Indian to notch up a top-five in a Major at the PGA Championship in August.
Despite the challenges, there are lots working for him. The courses might be new, but that does little to change the mindset once he’s on the tee box. After travelling across Asia week-in, week-out, travel is now easier. Also gone is the bother of exchanging currencies, so “the relatives are different, you know”.
Looking into the horizon, Anirban knows even if he were to replicate his success on the Asian Tour, he will never become a poster boy. “Look at Hideki (Matsuyama),” he says about the world No 11 from Japan. “He’s widely respected but will never become a brand.”
“They (PGA Tour) are masters at marketing. If you do well, acceptance will follow, but their brand building will always centre on the top 8-10 American players. It started with Tiger Woods, and though he remains a crowd-puller, the focus is firmly on the likes of world No 1 Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed.