Southampton, Bermuda, 28-10-2020

Anirban Lahiri: I’m close to playing my best golf

Indian star Anirban Lahiri has made a decent start to the 2020-21 PGA Tour season having posted a tied sixth and two other finishes inside the top-40 from his three starts so far. These are some positive signs for the former Asia No. 1 who had a forgettable 2019-20 PGA Tour season where he didn’t secure a single top-25 finish.

In a virtual interview conducted by the PGA Tour ahead of this week’s Bermuda Championship, Anirban spoke about his current form, spending time in India during the lockdown and playing events during the pandemic. Here we feature some extracts from that interview.

Lahiri, who returns to competition at the Port Royal Golf Course after a three‑week break, said, “I'm really excited to be back. It's been three good weeks. I got a lot of work done, took some time off, kind of reflected on the start and also looked at areas that I need to work on and get better at.

“I played some good golf at this venue last year with rounds of 66 and 73 before withdrawing in the third round. It's a pretty nice golf course. It's unique. Obviously the biggest challenge here is the wind and I consider myself to be a pretty good wind player. I've had a lot of good results at windy venues and the grasses are tropical, so it's a lot like what I'm used to playing, primarily bermuda.

“I feel I'm definitely close to playing my best golf. How close, I don't know. Might be this week, might be two weeks from now.”

Interestingly, since the tour resumed, the Bermuda Championship will be the first event to allow a limited number of spectators on the course.

The PGA Tour resumed events in June this year when the Covid-19 pandemic was wreacking havoc across the world. This led the tour to introduce a lot of new rules and protocols for the safe conduct of events. The experience of playing in such circumstances has been a new one for all pros including Anirban.

“It's obviously been a different kind of way to travel and play events. I think the Tour has done a great job of keeping us all healthy and safe ahead of everything else and still managed to conduct these events.

“Obviously once we get to the tournament, we follow all the protocols. We have to test almost twice a week every week just to make sure that everyone is healthy and safe. There's lots of measures that have been implemented within the clubhouse. We still don't have family and coaches and the support staff necessarily inside the bubble, just the caddies and the players at the moment. So all the precautions are in place and we're all getting used to it,” said Lahiri, a two-time winner on the European Tour.

Speaking about his good recent form, Anirban emphasized on how spending time with his coach Vijay Divecha back in India during the lockdown helped him.

Lahiri said, “I put in a lot of work during the lockdown when I was in India, put a lot of new processes, refreshed a lot of my old practices and things that used to work for me. I've been able to implement a lot of those changes so far this season.

“Obviously spending extended time with my coach back in India made a huge difference and that's beginning to show. I trust my game a lot more, I'm hitting my irons a lot better, which has basically always been my strength but not so much so in the last couple of years.

“I think it's been a bit of a mixed bag in my first three events this season. I've obviously had one good result and a couple of average results. I think the game has been a few loose holes every event, the game has been one bad round or mediocre round every event, and there's been a lot of good golf and a lot of birdies and a lot of other positives as well.

“For me it was just identifying where some of those mistakes are coming from and what are the areas I need to tighten up. There's definitely been some inconsistency with my iron play. My long game and driving by and large has been good. Barring one day out of the three events that I played, my putting's been pretty solid. More or less most departments are in good shape barring the odd inconsistency, which is exactly what I was trying to work on over the last few weeks.

“It's a matter of getting off to a good start. That's something that I haven't done as consistently, so I’ll be focusing on a good start and then keep my foot on the pedal or keep that momentum and keep myself in it all four days,” added Anirban, who has recently been working hard with his short game coach Jim Sieckmann.  

Lahiri, who represented India at the 2016 Rio Olympics, is currently ranked 566 in the world and thus not one of the top contenders at the moment for the two berths in the Indian Olympic team for next year. But the 33-year-old prefers to stay in the present and not think too far ahead.

“There's a lot to play for and I'm in a position where I'm not getting into a lot of events. This is going to be my fourth event of the year and may even be the last just looking at how many entries have come in for the remainder of the events. So I have to make the most of it.

“Without getting too far ahead into the future for other teams or Olympics or so many things that we have to play for and so many things that we aspire to do for ourselves, for our country, I think it all starts with right now and what I need to do right now and play well in the moment,” said Anirban, who is affectionately known as 'Baan' to all those close to him.

While he was in India, Lahiri, a two-time participant at the Presidents Cup, also cherished the time he spent with younger Indian golfers like Udayan Mane and Chikkarangappa.

Anirban said, “It was fantastic. You know, they're family. At least that's how I like to think about it. Chikka's like a younger brother to me and so are a lot of other kids that I worked with that work with Vijay (Divecha) at his academy.

“So for me to be able to spend so much time at home with my friends and my family and my extended family was great. More than them picking my brains, I picked their brains. I try to learn from them. I try and pass on whatever knowledge I have or whatever experience I have and I enjoy doing it, too. I see so much talent, I see so much potential that sometimes I can't help it, I'll reach out to them and I'll probably give them advice even when they don't want it. So to that extent I feel old, I guess, like a veteran in some aspects.”

When asked what has been the silver lining for him this year despite all the constraints posed by the pandemic, Lahiri reflected on his time spent away from the game earlier this year.

“I came to India for the Indian Open and we all know what happened after that. So yeah, I think being away from the game for 70‑something days, I didn't hit a golf ball, I didn't have my golf clubs with me. They were at the academy and that was a challenge. It's probably the longest I've been away from my clubs for 20 years, maybe more.

“I think that also gives you some perspective. It builds the hunger to come back and motivates you, something that can suffer when you have an extended period of bad golf like I did, so that was the big take-away for me,” said the seven-time international winner.

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