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Anirban Lahiri eager to tackle testing US Open course

For the 31-year-old, this week’s venue is the “St Andrews of US Open”, stirring him into being a part of the year’s third Major.

other sports Updated: Jun 12, 2019 22:19 IST
Robin Bose
Robin Bose
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Anirban Lahiri,US Open,US Open Golf
File image of Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri.(AFP)

For two years, Anirban Lahiri had the option of making it to the US Open through a sectional qualifier, but he chose not to. Even this season, he wouldn’t have contemplated turning up had it not been for the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California.

For the 31-year-old, this week’s venue is the “St Andrews of US Open”, stirring him into being a part of the year’s third Major.

Conducted by the United States Golf Association (USGA), which Lahiri claims can “screw up even a perfect golf course”, it was the bruising effects of missing cut in 2015 and 2016, when he qualified on world ranking, that held him back.

“If Oakmont (Pennsylvania) in 2016 was the “longest course I had played in my career”, the course layout of Chambers Bay in Washington the year before “became a laughing stock among pros”.

The flak got the USGA to appoint Major winner Nick Price and PGA Tour player Jason Gore as consultants and get feedback from the participants, but complaints remain and the US Open is still termed a “tournament of attrition” for its penal roughs and pin positions.

Happy to play at Pebble Beach for the first time, as the “fair course setup will allow me to compete and contend”, Lahiri still recounts the horrors of 2015 and 2016. Of his 15 Major appearances, Oakmont was the least enjoyable. “It favoured the long hitters and fast swingers and at every tee box one stood and wondered ‘why am I here’ as 50 per cent (those who did not hit long) got eliminated anyway,” said Lahiri.

Chambers Bay was “another joke”. “One day we played a hole as a par 5, and the next day it was a par 4. Every day, it was a trip to the golf course to see what awaited us next.”

For all the issues with course layout, the US Open is a test of mental strength and for Lahiri, emerging from the “toughest phase of my career”, Pebble Beach will be about “keeping up with the best”. The belief is he’s playing well again, but Lahiri is far from securing his PGA Tour card for 2020. He tees off this week ranked 167th on the FedEx Cup and nothing less than a top-3 will see him break into the group of 125 who get to keep their card. In the event of that not happening, it will be striking a balance between making the most of what remains of the season, which ends in August, and protecting himself from a burnout.

Lahiri arrived early at Pebble Beach on Sunday to figure out the course setup and centre his game around it. Located by the ocean, the wind will play a part too as will the punishing roughs. “At every hole there is a miss,” he said, explaining, “In case one misses the fairway, there is only one position from where the ball can be hit for par. If not, dropping shots isn’t tough.”

Self-belief

Playing the Memorial Tournament two weeks back bolstered the belief that he was playing well—he made 18 birdies over four days on the tough Muirfield Village course—and prompted him to take a shot at the sectional qualifier for the US Open the next day, after a T52 finish.

Lahiri is known to be harsh on himself. He mentioned the 19 dropped shots that led to squandering a strong start at the Memorial and how a conversation with tournament host and 18-time Major winner Jack Nicklaus helped.

“Even in the past, talking to Jack has made me feel better about myself. I ran into him while he was with a group of friends and he introduced me: ‘This is Anirban and he is a much better player than he thinks he is’.”

Those words will ring as Lahiri strives to revive his fortunes on a tour he now calls “home away from home”.

First Published: Jun 12, 2019 22:19 IST