May 5, 2016: “Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri takes early lead with 66 at the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow.” It seemed almost unprecedented to read something of this sort. For a country where a single sport – cricket – is not just a norm but almost as preached as religion, this headline seems quite out of place. Equally strange was the fact that it appeared on an American news agency’s website.
As an avid golfer from India (I defy the norm, too), I’d been waiting for too long to witness an Indian shine on the PGA tour, which is considered by many to be the Mecca of the highest level of the sport across the world. Leave alone the winning, even making it from there to here is a far cry for more reasons that one. While there are a couple of Indian golfers who have successfully made it to tour over the last ten years, none of whom have sustained long enough to permanently seal their names alongside the world’s greatest. The one highlight for Indian golf here in the States was Arjun Atwal’s (my namesake!) triumph at the 2010 Wyndham Championship in North Carolina over the renowned golders such as David Toms and Webb Simpson.
It’s been pretty torpid since then. Every Indian-born who played on the PGA including Atwal all lost their playing rights soon after and returned to Asia to play locally. Just when the very few existent Indian golf fans had reached a point of complete despair, a new 28-year-old force with the name Anirban Lahiri awakened. All of last year, he won numerous times on the Asian and European circuits, which was enough to get him within the top 60 of the world. Whilst exploiting the top-60 privilege with high finishes at World Golf Championships and Majors (the top 50-60 get automatic entry to these tournaments), he soon began to envision a place on the PGA tour amongst the cream of global golf. Mind you, a tied-for-fifth finish at the PGA Championship in 2015 (one of the four majors) was no mean feat and, in fact, finally got the Indian media talking about promoting the sport more vigorously. Not only was this the highest finish by an Indian-born golfer in a major, but it also was also an eye-opener for cricket fanatics in India that other sports can exist. It is now incumbent upon the Indian government and its associated Sports Ministry to ensure an advancement of existing golf infrastructure to match the ever-escalating interest in the sport.
Every time I tell someone that I’m from India and on Club golf, I notice a certain incredulity, which is only justified. It has been absolutely delightful watching Lahiri steadily consolidate a name for India in the world of golf this year by making strides like finding places in all four majors and most regular PGA tour events, amongst the more watched sporting events in the U.S. His consistent mention of yoga and meditation as stress relievers at pre-tournament press conferences has become increasingly popular in American golf reporting. A yoga and meditation regime is perhaps more prevalent than ever amongst top notch athletes in today’s day and age. This only goes to show how Indian golfers are more than ready to be catapulted to the PGA level. There is little doubt of the ample potential, it just has to be nurtured following inspiration like Lahiri’s. That said, it has been exciting that his rise has coincided with my first year in college away from India – it is so much more convenient to follow his progress without the mammoth time difference. Although he relinquished his lead at the Wells Fargo tournament last week and finished lower than expected, merely being on that leaderboard for a man with his roots is a statement in itself.
Contact Arjun Soin at asoin ‘at’ stanford.edu