Anirban Lahiri ready for baptism of fire at British Open

Anirban LahiriNew Delhi: Indian prospect Anirban Lahiri is fully prepared for his baptism of fire when he makes his Major debut at The Open Championship at Royal Lytham and St Annes, England next week.

The 25-year-old Lahiri, who is a two-time winner on the Asian Tour, earned his place in the world’s oldest Major through International Final Qualifying – Asia in Thailand and has been eagerly waiting to line-up alongside the world’s greatest players.

“Of the four Majors, the Open and the Masters are probably the hallowed events. Growing up, that’s where you want to be … it’s been a dream of mine. I’m really fortunate and privileged that I will be a part of an event like this. It’s an opportunity to move my game into the next level,” said Lahiri.

In preparation of the biggest challenge yet to his young career, Lahiri made a flying visit to Royal Lytham and St Annes in early June with his coach and played several rounds to acclimatize to links golf, which is synonymous with The Open.

“I think it was good that I managed to go there early to get a feel for the course. It was a great experience and it sets me up for The Open. I played a couple of rounds and fortunately, the winds switched which was good. It gave me a great look at how things might be.

“I had my coach with me for the trip and it was a smart decision. He put things into perspective for me,” said Lahiri.

However, what he saw last month has left him with no illusion that the Asians will face a tough challenge in conditions so unfamiliar to them. The closest an Asian has come to winning The Open was in 1971 when Lu Liang-huan of Chinese Taipei finished second behind Lee Trevino of the United States.

“It’s going to be a new experience. It’ll be hard to say if I’m going to be over-awed. It’ll be the best field I’ll be in. I’ve played in some big events, played with Phil (Mickelson) before. But the Open is a whole different ball game,” said Lahiri, who is currently eighth on the Asian Tour Order of Merit.

“It is a very tough course. There are 208 bunkers and all of them are in play depending on the wind. It can be so severe if the wind switches. You can’t stand up and bully the hole into domination. You have to play it as it is designed and play the hole depending on the wind. Strategy will be very critical and I think I’ve worked out most of them.”

Since breaking out on the Asian Tour in 2008, Lahiri’s stock has risen sharply with each passing season. He won the Panasonic Open India last year for his maiden Tour victory and followed up with a second win earlier this season at the SAIL-SBI Open, which was also on home soil.

He reckons the atmosphere at The Open will be electrifying. “Come the Open, the atmosphere will be very different. When I was there (in June), they already had the grandstands up. You kind of walk underneath the main grandstand and on to the first tee, like you’re walking through a tunnel. When you come out of it, you’re on the tee. It will be very special. It was good that I went early as I will be less overwhelmed when I get back there,” said Lahiri.

With both his Tour wins being at the notoriously difficult Delhi Golf Club, Lahiri said it would help him tackle the demanding challenges of links golf, which is often associated with strong gale winds, cold and rain.

He is quietly confident he can come up with the right game plan and shots to ensure a memorable week. “The courses in Asia are so different than what I will play. I had a local caddie when I played some rounds at Royal Lytham and St Annes and the wind was up and I had to hit a lot of low shots.

“My caddie turned around and asked where I learned to hit those low shots and I just said you’ve got to hit them at DGC as that’s the only shot you hit there to avoid those trees! I like to believe that I can be comfortable on a links course,” said Lahiri.

He is experienced enough now to know that there is no reason for him to set lofty targets for his Major debut. “The only goal is to go there and give it my best and enjoy myself. The only thing I can do now is prepare and let it go into automatic. If I go and try to overcome conditions and try to do things overnight, it won’t happen,” said Lahiri.

What is certain though is he will enjoy the week as Lahiri’s father will accompany him to The Open, the first time they are travelling together outside of India. “He’s super excited and I’m super excited that he’s coming out with me. It’ll be special,” he said.

Lahiri is part of a strong Asian Tour contingent who will feature in The Open. Reigning Asian Tour number one Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines, Japan’s Kodai Ichihara, Singaporean veteran Mardan Mamat, Thai duo Thongchai Jaidee and Prayad Marksaeng and South African Jbe Kruger, currently leading the Order of Merit, will also tee up at Royal Lytham and St Annes.