13 June 2019: The 119th US Open is only hours away and as Anirban Lahiri sleeps the night away somewhere in the Monterey Peninsula, Indian fans will wait anxiously long into Thursday night. Anirban has a 0250am (Friday, IST) tee time off the 10th box and some good golf at the Memorial Tournament in the first and final rounds, expectations of a positive outcome at Pebble Beach are high. The 31-year-old will be starting his 16th major, being back at the US Open for the first time in 2016. At the Sectional Qualifier in Columbus, Anirban showed marked improvement on his recent form to produce some scintillating golf to secure a spot this week.
He will hope to ride the wave and change the direction of his sails toward calmer seas. As it is, Anirban is in the midst of an intense battle of survival. A FedexCup rank of 167 and an OWGR standing of 253 means that he is in urgent need of a breakout performance to restore confidence and retain his card on the PGA TOUR.
In the opening round at Muirfield, Anirban was firing well past 70%, both in terms of driving accuracy and greens in regulation. That was well over 10% on his numbers this season and helped produce a five-under 67 that was enough to close the day inside the top ten. But consistency has been his Waterloo and a couple of disappointing rounds in the middle let him down yet again.
With the rough wearing an uninviting garb this week at Pebble Beach, it will be absolutely essential for Anirban to fly straight and find the fairways. The key though is going to be a strong approach game, as making the greens in regulation is nearly an existential need for success this week.
“The golf course is a gem. Definitely, the best US Open venue that I have seen,” acknowledged Anirban. “It is a very fair but demanding test as one can expect from the US Open.”
“I love the 7th and the 17th par 3’s. Both back up to the ocean and offer stunning views.”
Anirban will hope that his irons serve him well this week. Pebble Beach is a course measured on the second shot performance and it will be vital again for the Indian to set up well off the tee before he can use his knowledge of the course and greens to navigate from fairway to green.
“The keys to success this week will be to hit the fairways and keep the ball below the hole to leave yourself uphill putts,” said Anirban. “I need to stay mentally patient as it will be a tough test. US Opens are all about being mentally tough and patient. That’s the real key.”
Interestingly, the only statistic on which Anirban hasn’t bled strokes this season is strokes-gained-putting, where he is 78th on the PGA TOUR at 0.134. He is losing strokes on every other count. But recent performances suggest that the worst might be behind him and the stage is set for a massive turnaround.
Indian fans will hope for nothing less when the ball is struck off the tees this evening to get things going in what promises to be yet another memorable US Open.