Anirban Lahiri, 27, stunned the golfing world with a come-from-behind win at the $3 million Maybank Malaysian Open to force his way into the World’s Top-40, a territory that only Jeev Milkha Singh has seen among Indian golfers.
The win will enable Lahiri to plan more for bigger events and play alongside the world’s best at the Majors and World Golf Championships.
It also gives him a possible chance to make it Augusta National if he holds this ranking inside Top-50 when the cut-off is made a week before the Masters in early April to get the coveted invitation. Edited excerpts from an interview after the win in Kuala Lumpur:
Around the middle of 2014, your goals included getting to the World’s Top-50. It has happened quickly now. What next?
It’s a little premature for me to take out my book and say what my plans are. I’ve got to take stock tomorrow. It has been a dream of mine to play at the Masters. Now playing in the Masters is a realistic goal. I ended 2014 at 64th and my goal was to get into Top-50. Now I am there, so there’ll be a lot of thinking.
How do you feel about all the changes you will need to make to your schedule?
It’s the kind of change you don’t mind after such a result. The logistical advantage of this win is that I can sit down and plan my schedule. A lot of players play less or more to plan for the Majors. All the best players in the world have the luxury to do that. (Now) I might actually find myself in a position where I can sit back and say ‘I don’t think I will play this.’
Speaking of the final round at Malaysian Open, what was your plan and what was going through your head in the closing stages?
I was just trying to focus on getting off to a good start. That was the key to a low round. There are a lot of birdie opportunities early in the round and then you have some more towards the end—it’s the middle part of the golf course that’s hard to navigate.
The 17th was a big boost for me. I missed good opportunities on 15 and 16, so it was a very important putt and the shot of the day for me. On 18 I knew that I needed to keep it simple, hit the fairway, hit the green. I hit two brilliant golf shots, and as I was standing there I had to wait a while before I hit my third shot. I asked my caddie whether Bernd (Wiesberger) was 15 or 16 under, then there was an announcement at the back of the green. It broke my thought a bit and I backed off. Basically I tried to hit it too hard and got little tight on the swing. It was an embarrassing shot for television. But then when I got to the green my caddie told me Bernd had bogeyed 17, and I hit a good shot to hit it close. It was the best bunker shot of the week.
Were you trying to make that putt on 17 from just off the green? It was long, almost 50ft?
When I got to the 17th I said believe it what you see, believe you can make this putt and just hit it. I wasn’t thinking of lagging it or holing it, I just told myself as I walked up to it to believe that I can make it. And it went in. It wasn’t an easy putt and I would’ve been happy to make a four (for par).
How important was that third round of 62 on Saturday in third round?
Before the round I was two under par and the leaders were already at 12-under. So when you’re 10 back after two days, you’re not really thinking about trying to win the tournament, you’re trying to get yourself back in the event by shooting six, seven, eight under. When I came out (in third round) I was trying to get to double digits to still have a sniff. I started off hot—I was six under after nine holes— I looked up and I was already at eight under, so I thought we can do better than ten and just see how deep we can go.
Fortunately that’s something I’ve done a few times in the past—I’ve shot 60, 61, 62 numerous times before.
Each win has a special memory, but how does this latest one compare with all the ones before this?
This is very special. This is the sixth time I won and it is my first on the European Tour. The other thing that sets this win apart is that I finally won a big event.
I wanted to win an event, which is big, not just in prize money but also in terms of the field. You are playing in the field with Major winners and you beat them. That is something that I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.
Now that you are into Top-40, how does the prospect of teeing up at the Majors excite you?
All pros dream of getting to the Majors and doing well. It is the same for me. I have been to the Open (British) twice and the PGA once. Lets see, what’s next. And, yes, I am excited. Very excited!
How are you getting prepped up for a possible invitation for Augusta?
I need a few days to re-work schedules (tournaments he will play henceforth). I may play somewhat sparingly in the couple of weeks leading to the Masters (9-12 April). However, I have not concretized anything as yet. Its too early, and I need a few days to digest the recent win!
These days a lot of players hit the gym a lot but your choice has been meditation. How has that worked for you?
I’m not a gym fanatic. I had an incident in 2013 where I tore 80% of my ligament in my knee. That kind of restricts the cardio that I can do. I do a lot of yoga and a lot of meditation. It has calmed me and been a great help.