Gurugram, Haryana, 07 Mar 2018

SSP Chawrasia and Anirban Lahiri Interview

Tournament favourites, defending champion SSP Chawrasia and 2015 champion Anirban Lahiri shared their thoughts at the start of the 2018 Indian Open.

Here is the transcript of their interviews

Q: Anirban, first of all, you two have had a great rivalry at this event over the years, and you won here in 2015. It’s a pretty fantastic Indian field here this week, are you looking forward to the challenge?

Anirban Lahiri: The Indian Open is always a very special event, for me personally and the other Indian players here. Outside of the prestige of the event, it’s also a good opportunity for the young unheralded Indians to make a splash and secure their cards in Asia. For the two of us, we always look forward to it, we’ve done well here. I think all eyes are going to be on SSP as well as he’s played the last couple of years. So yeah. I’m looking forward to it. Like you mentioned, I think this is the best Indian field we’ve ever had. Also, the most in-form Indian field that we’ve ever had. Obviously with Shubhankar playing the way he is, Khalin (Joshi) recently had a top 10 in Malaysia. It is really great to see, so I’m hoping that the Indians have a great week.

Q: Do you feel that you, as a young player, benefitted from playing at this tournament?  

AL: Oh yes. I still remember the year C Muniyappa won in 2009. It was on the old layout at DLF. That was my second year on the Asian Tour. I’ll never forget that round. I shot 64 on Sunday and made eagle to the back right pin on 18 to finish third. That basically secured my card. Everything else was history. I still remember that like yesterday. That happened to me when I was young, and it could happen to someone else this week. Like I said, it’s a great opportunity.

Q: SSP, you have the opportunity to win this event for three consecutive years – what would that mean for you?

SSP Chawrasia: Yes, I’ve already won twice so I will try my best this year. I’m playing good, so hopefully. Let’s see.

Q: All of your European Tour wins have come in India. What’s different about playing at home, what advantage does it give you?

SSP: Well, I’m playing in India and that’s why I’m more comfortable. Indian food too.

Q: Yesterday Chris Wood said you were the person to beat. Does that put pressure on you?

SSP: Well, I’ve won a couple of times here, so no doubt. All the Europeans say ‘Oh, if any event happens in India you will definitely win the tournament. What’s the secret?’ I always say there is no secret, I’m just playing good, that’s it.

Q: SSP you’re being very modest. You have been playing good in India for almost 20 years. You have finished four times as runner up, two times as winner here and many other top tens. What is it about the Hero Indian Open that you like so much?

SSP: Well, I lost four times at the Indian Open, so I think that’s why I went on to win twice. I think that’s why I might win three times. I’ll try my best and we’ll see.

Q: Anirban, you and SSP have been great friends, team mates for many years. How do you feed off each other when you play with and against each other?

AL: More than anything else we’re really good friends. Once we step on that first tee we want to win. We want to beat everyone in the field, including our friends, because that is what competitive golf is about. Having been on so many teams together, the Olympics etc, I’ve now been a pro for ten years. Half of what he’s been pro! You always feed off positive energy. SSP is very positive. He’s always looked at every situation in a very good way. I think it’s just good energy. We enjoy playing with each other, we enjoy competing. In fact, the next two days we will have a lot of fun.

Q: SSP, can I ask you the same question? He said a lot of nice things about you.

SSP: I’ve learned so many things with him to be honest. We have played together a lot. Whenever we get a chance to practice together we always do. It’s always good fun, and I hope the next two days will be the same.

Q: Anirban, can you tell us what you have changes and what you would like to change about your game?

AL: 2018 for me, a lot of changes. Equipment-wise it has been a change for me I think that is the one area where I’ve had a few adjustments going on. I think I finally feel settled. I think the final pieces fitted last week at Honda. The results might not show on the scores, but I definitely feel much more comfortable with that. I think that’s one major hurdle that I have crossed. Changing after ten years can be a bit tricky. These first four events that I have played I’ve shown signs of good play. I thought I was playing quite well at Riviera in LA. I didn’t really have a good weekend with my irons, but overall I feel like my game is in a good place. I’m really focused on what I need to do going ahead.
This is probably the cut off for match play, so I need to go out and be aggressive, try to finish as high as I can. Try to get a second win. By SSP’s logic, I’ve had two runner ups as well so it might be third time lucky.

Q: What do you think of the course, there have been some changes?

AL: The course is in fantastic condition. It’s probably in better condition than it was last year, the greens are in a little bit better condition. They have made some changes on the back nine. It could go either way. If it doesn’t get too windy I don’t think it will make that much of a difference. But if the wind picks up, you might see that length factor come in. Obviously the tenth hole is going to play a little bit harder. The 15th, 16th and 17th have been lengthened. It will be interesting to see how it plays out. Overall I think you might see the course play a fraction harder. I think the biggest challenge out here is on the greens. At the end of the day, if you’re out of position, you’re going to struggle. Today when I went out, I think the greens were a little bit softer than last year. The level of softness will help to control the ball a bit better because it’s hard enough as it is. It’s a tough challenge, it’s the same for everyone. I think it’s going to be a good combination of keeping the ball in play and leaving yourself in the right place. Missing it I the wrong place is not going to help you. You have to have an overall strategy ad execute it well.

Q: SSP, you’ve won here and at Delhi Golf Club. What is your strategy this year?

SSP: Last year I played the same course, so I think it will be the same strategy I’m using this week.

Q: Will you reveal the strategy?

SSP: That’s a secret!

Q: What do you think about the changes to the course?

SSP: I don’t think there are many changes, just a couple of holes have been made longer and the rough is a bit thicker compared to last year.

Q: What do you think the winning score will be?

SSP: The winning score, I think will be less than ten under. Five to seven under I would say.

Q: Anirban, you won here in 2015 in the same year that you won the Asian Tour Order of Merit. How has playing on the Asia Tour set you up for your golf career.

AL: I’ve said this many times, the Asian Tour is home for me. I’m trying to make the PGA Tour my home now, I feel pretty comfortable there. Whenever I come back here, I know there are so many familiar faces. The staff, the golf courses. It’s definitely the most fun tour to play in the world. And I’ve played on many different tours. I spent seven years here. Worked my way up from the bottom – I had to go to Q School twice. Got through Q School the second time around. I just narrated the story of the Indian Open in 2009. In 2010 I almost lost my card, I had to play well in Cambodia. I’ve been to all of these places that the Tour goes to. I really enjoyed it and learned a lot from it. That has helped me to be more appreciative when I’ve gone out west. It’s also helped me to gain a slightly different attitude, which has helped me to get what I have. I have a lot to thank the Asian Tour for.

Q: SSP, you were in the top ten of the order of merit for the last three years, how do you keep yourself motivated after being on the tour for so long and at such a high level?

SSP: The last few years few years I’ve played well at the Indian Open so that’s why I think I have kept my ranking! But I think I’m doing better because I changed some of my game plan, so hopefully I’m doing better this year, so let’s see.

Q: What were the changes?

SSP: I’m just working out my driving, so I’m just trying different kinds of shafts.

Q: Will you play defensive or attacking this year?

SSP: I don’t think I will play attacking. I’m just playing differently.

Q. Anirban, what is your strategy here?

AL: At a demanding golf course like this, a lot of your decision making will be based on two factors. One is the wind, the other is the pin position. You take a hole like number nine. If you put the pin in front, close to the water, there’s no advantage by being aggressive off the tee. But if you put the pin all the way back, even if you miss-hit with your driver, you still have a great chance. Being aggressive without any thought will only land you in trouble. I will pick my battles very carefully. This golf course ,as we’ve seen with SSP, rewards percentage play, so you have to think hard ad you have to be very precise with your strategy. If you are down wind, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of the green. If you’re in to the wind you want to be closer. Those two factors, for me, will determine how I go about playing a hole. I might play it defensively one day and aggressively one day.

Q: SSP, over the next five years what is your target?

SSP: Obviously I have played for the last couple of years on the European Tour, but I’m not playing consistently. That’s my next target, I have to play well in Europe.

Q: (Inaudible)

AL: I was disappointed by 2017. For me that was my first goal. I need to win and I need to get back into that mindset. My first target is to get a win, whether that’s here or whether it’s on the PGA Tour. I want to win there. That’s my primary goal just now. Obviously I want to get into the Majors and the WGCs. Getting into the Tour Championship is definitely a goal because that is like a golden ticket to the next season. You get into all the Majors and a lot of WGCs. I got close eventually, I finished 51st I think last year on the FedEx Cup, so I have to better that. Obviously if you win that takes care of a lot of things. I’m just going about it in a systematic manner. I have fitness goals. I have goals regarding my stats. I’m trying to bring down my scoring average, I’m trying to improve my ball striking. The years that I did well 12, 13, 14, 15. The stat that stood out was my ball striking and that hasn’t been up to par the last 18 months. I’m being as thorough as I can. Hopefully I can reach most of my targets this year. I had a good finish at the Presidents Cup and a couple of good events outside of that, so I want to build on that.

Q: What is the hardest thing that you have faced on the PGA Tour.

AL: I don’t want to sound negative and say this is hard, that is hard, but the depth of the field is completely different. It’s like when you graduate from the PGTI to the Asian Tour. You’re like there are so many guys who are shooting under par. And then you go from the Asian Tour to the European Tour, and SSP will tell you that there is another jump in the level. And then when you go to the PGA Tour there’s another jump, and a significant one. You wouldn’t think so, but there is. Probably not in the top five or ten percent. I think they are quite similar on both the European and PGA Tours. But if you finished say 20th in Europe you would probably finish 40th on the PGA Tour. For you to consistently stay in that top 15, you have to up your average. You can have those two or three reaaly good weeks, like I did and I hope I continue to have, but it’s the other weeks that you have to keep pushing your level up. I think that’s the biggest difference, apart from the usual things like getting used to the different grasses, or adapting to other thigs that are common across the board with a new Tour.

Q: SSP, can you tell us something about Shubhankar with the Masters invite etc?

SSP: He’s doing well, he’s playing very good. He’s playing the Masters, which is good for us as a country. It’s a good thing, and it’s good for the upcoming players because he’s so young, he’s 21 years old and playing the Masters.

Q: What about you Anirban?

AL: Absolutely, it’s amazing to see what he is doing. There are so many kids out here that have the talent and potential. To see someone actually break through and just run away with his confidence and his game, like Shubhankar has, I think it’s a great thing for Indian golf. I think the kind of golf he is playing now. It’s hard to draw parallels, but what Aditi (Ashok) is doing in ladies golf, as a young golfer. I’m no longer young, so we need someone like Shubhankar now to step up. ,That will motivate the Khalins and the Chikkas and the other kids to come behind them. They’ll say, ‘if he can do it we can do it, we used to play side by side’. That’s kind of what I did five years ago. I think it’s massive, it’s huge, I’m really hoping he has a great tournament. From a selfish perspective, I hope he gets to the PGA Tour so that I have company.

Shubhankar and I talk quite a bit, I’m waiting to catch up with him, he’s just got here. I think he will be playing a few more events in America as well, so I’ll probably, and Arjun as well, he’s probably the player with the most experience on the PGA Tour, he’s been a key person in advising him and guiding his team. Obviously we want hi to do well, we want all of our players to do well. We will definitely be talking to him. He’s an amazing young kid and he makes decisions. He just keeps playing golf, that’s all he has to do. Keep playing golf, keep your level up, and the rest will take care of itself.

Q: You were the preeminent India golfer, now it’s Shubhankar, is that something that bothers you?

AL: No, I mean what have I done in the last two years? Nothing that I would write home about, I may have had a few good finishes and a good Presidents Cup, but I personally haven’t won, I haven’t lived up to the kind of golf that I should be playing. So, to see someone who has earned his stripes and has won not once but twice, and with his performance last week, by all means he deserves all the attention he is getting. It’s not like he has won a lottery ticket, he has worked his way there. If anything it inspires me. It inspires me to do the same thing. It inspires all of us. If one of us does well, I think it will spur all of us to do well. You have to look at it that way.

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