Anirban Lahiri relieved to be in the field for CIMB Classic

The Indian nearly missed out on taking part in a tourney where he has had encouraging performances in the past.

File Photo: Anirban Lahiri finished tied third at the CIMB Classic in 2015.   -  AP

India’s Anirban Lahiri hopes to make the most of his participation in the USD 7 million CIMB Classic, where has put in encouraging performances in the past.

The 31-year-old from Bengaluru finished tied third at the corresponding event in 2015. It was the joint-best result by an Asian player in the only PGA Tour event in south-east Asia. At the same golf course in 2015, he won the Malaysian Open — a european Tour event.

Lahiri is one of four Indian golfers in the field this time — the most number of Indians in any PGA Tour event. Besides Lahiri, the other Indians are Gaganjeet Bhullar, Shubhankar Sharma and Rahil Gangjee. Bhullar, the Fiji International champion, has been in good form and he decided to take a week’s break before the CIMB Classic.

Close call

Lahiri made it to the tourney at the last minute. Ranked 99th on the FedEx Cup last season, he presumed he would get an entry in the field, but discovered last Friday that he was the first alternate after entries officially closed. He was on the verge of taking a flight to his U.S. base in Florida from San Francisco when he received the news that Andrew Landry withdrew, confirming his participation.

“I’m quite relieved actually. I made my plans in the off-season assuming that I would play, so it came as a bit of a surprise. I thought I’d be comfortably in because in the previous years, it had gone down way past 100th in the FedEx Cup standing,” said the World No 119.

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“I was still the first reserve on Sunday and I had a 00.30 Cathay flight on Monday to fly to Kuala Lumpur and also a 23.30 red-eye to Florida from San Francisco because if I wasn’t getting in, I was just going to go back to Florida.”

Lahiri said he was eager to play this week, not just because of his good record at the TPC Kuala Lumpur — it’s the venue where he shot a 62 to win the Malaysian Open and a 64 at the CIMB Classic. “I worked very hard after the Playoffs. I went to Napa (for Safeway Open) and I was still in my practise mode, a little rusty,” Lahiri added.

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“Then, on Friday afternoon, I actually started playing a little better on the back nine and I felt more comfortable. I felt like the rust was coming off and I was ready to play well here in Kuala Lumpur. I know what to do, I know the golf course, the weather, how far the ball is going to go, the pin positions, etc. Then I’m like, oh, maybe I’m not going to play. I have plans for the next couple of weeks where I’m not playing any golf, so it would have ended up like a month of no golf.”

‘Sign of improvement’

Gaganjeet Bhullar was delighted that four Indians were in the field and said the number is only going to increase in the future. “Well, this year all four of us have been playing really well. This is for the first time four of us are playing here,” he said.

“I think it’s a great sign of improvement [for] Indian golf and I think the next generation will definitely get pumped up, they’ll definitely work hard and hopefully in the future the number increases.”