Thu, Aug 20, 2015 - Page 19 News List

Lahiri fifth-place finish at PGA to boost Indian golf

AP, NEW DELHI

Anirban Lahiri of India plays a during the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, on Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Anirban Lahiri’s tie for fifth at the PGA Championship on Sunday has not only raised hopes of India producing a first major winner, it promises to fuel the aspirations of a whole generation of golfers in the cricket-crazed nation of over 1.2 billion people.

The 28-year-old shot a final-round 68 for a 13-under 275 to produce the best finish by an Indian at a major, surpassing Jeev Milkha Singh’s joint-ninth at the 2008 PGA Championship.

The Indian golf fraternity is anticipating a major boost from Lahiri’s performance, building on the efforts of Jeev, Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal, who have helped the game gain recognition in India.

Lahiri’s coach, Vijay Divecha, said Lahiri’s strong finish at Whistling Straits has long been expected and would undoubtedly be “big for Indian golf.”

“We knew we were on the threshold,” Divecha said. “Being in the mix is the first step and then it is knowing how to convert your chances at such big events.”

Dubai-based Indian golf journalist Joy Chakravarty said performing well in high-profile tournaments does much to boost golf in India.

“This performance gives immense belief to the juniors and other professionals in the country, many of whom are as talented as Anirban, that they too can achieve something like this,” Chakravarty said “It will just heighten the aspiration levels, which is always good for the sport.”

Divecha said he can already see the difference at the grassroots level after Lahiri’s consistent efforts on the international circuit.

“It is huge for Indians to see his name out there on the leaderboard. It tells young and aspiring players what they can do,” he said. “A lot of players call me up and say they want to talk to Anirban, discuss golf with him.”

“His performances have not only instilled confidence in the younger lot, many parents now want their children to take up golf as a profession. This includes players whose parents are not golfers, which did not happen earlier,” Divecha added.

India has nearly 200 golf courses, but most of them are restricted by exclusive memberships that make access difficult for aspiring players.

“Things are changing with some clubs taking on non-members for their training schemes, but opportunities are still limited. The facilities need to be more widespread and accessible to expect golf to become a bigger sport in India,” Divecha said.

Lahiri has won four times on the Asian Tour, including two events co-sanctioned by the European Tour.

Asian Tour chairman Kyi Hla Han said he is confident Lahiri can emulate South Korea’s Yang Yong-eun, the only Asian to win a major.

“I believe Anirban will achieve more success internationally and he has the right credentials to lift a major title in the very near future,” he said in a statement. “He has the ability, the right work ethics and self-confidence to achieve this dream.”

Jeev, India’s most successful golfer, winning three European Tour titles, four on the Japan Golf Tour and six on the Asian Tour, also has high hopes for a major win by Lahiri and a boost for golf in the nation.

“This performance will also be a massive boost to other Indian players,” Jeev said.

“What Anirban has achieved should be the launching pad for many such success stories from our country. I wish Anirban all the best in the future and I hope that he will soon be hoisting a major trophy on a Sunday evening,” Jeev added.

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