27 September 2021: Of all the shots you can make in golf, nothing is perhaps harder than the one you cannot. The impatient waiting behind fairway traffic is a weekly experience for most professional golfers. The waiting, even though practised regularly, isn’t an easy game to master. And when you stretch that wait to a few years, it can often feel like an interminable ride. But all droughts come to an end, and it cannot rain soon enough for Anirban Lahiri, who persists season after season looking for a big prize on the PGA TOUR.
Anirban Lahiri begins his seventh straight season on the most competitive American circuit, eighth if you count the year of his arangetram in 2015. The Indian is an integral part of the PGA TOUR, not just as a player. His leadership on the Players Council has been a vital contribution, particularly through the pandemic. He has been a member since 2018.
Golf demands patience and perseverance. And Anirban is showing plenty of both riding the crest and trough of life on the circuit with unwavering self-belief. He craves a W and makes no secret of his desire, week after week. But unlike in other sport, where there are typically two individuals or two teams battling for silverware on a Sunday, golf is complicated by the typical prospect of a dozen or so men fighting for the title at he start of any final round.
“I am happy to once again to schedule better. The past couple of years, I was forced to manage a great deal of uncertainty, often not knowing when and where I might play or not,” said Anirban, hoping that a more organised season could finally help him plan and play better.
His first two events of the 2021-22 season shall be the Sanderson Farms Championship and Shriners Children’s Open. Anirban does not expect to make the field for the CJ Cup, which is receiving heightened interest as it is played in Las Vegas this year. The Indian has also decided not to travel to Japan for the Zozo Championship, having been through the grind with the Olympics and the quick turnaround to play in the USA again to secure his place inside the top 125.
Anirban will resume his season in Bermuda in the last week of October before playing Mayakoba, the Houston Open and the RSM Classic to round out the fall season events. The Indian has always enjoyed strong results in the wraparound phase of the TOUR. Since 2017, he has secured top ten finishes in each of the years, except in 2020, when the pandemic affected his preparations for a very long time.
Even though Anirban resides in Florida, which is as dense as it gets for golf, he remains an obedient student of Vijay Divecha. The golf guru from Bengaluru has played an instrumental role in nourishing Anirban into a thoroughly professional golfer. And their relationship continues to be pivotal to the development of Anirban’s career in golf.
The duo spent several weeks together in 2021, even though some of it was upended by exposure to COVID-19. “The ‘how’ of teaching is just as important as the ‘what’ of golf,” explained Anirban, about the robust nature of his learning relationship with one of India’s pre-eminent golf teachers.
“We have a good understanding. He knows my game, my body and my attitude to the sport. I understand his methods, and the manner of his teaching,” said Anirban, speaking from Florida.
“Coaching can vary based on the approach of the teacher. Some of the top coaches in the west tend to offer an instruction based, mechanical model of learning. With Vijay, he takes a process centric approach to learning. I prefer to learn this way.”
“He allows the player to make mistakes along the way. The conversation tends to be around the feeling and experience during and after making the shot, whether it was a mistake or a good hit. Hence, learning isn’t a binary in this process of evolving as a golfer.”
After the end of his relationship with Callaway, Anirban has the freedom to mix his sticks. And he is beginning to enjoy the freedom of choice, the opportunity to experiment and put more of his instinct into the weapons in his quiver.
“I feel that this situation works well for me, I do not feel constrained,” explained Anirban.
Another constraint off his shoulder is the uncertainty of his schedule. The 34-year-old had a cracking start to his PGA TOUR career. He was safely inside the top-125 in 2016, and even better in the second season when he finished 51st on the FedexCup rankings. Anirban dropped to 99th in the next season, but he was still good enough for a guaranteed presence on the calendar for 2019.
But that season, Anirban endured a run of tough results, dropping to 178th. That forced him to work his way back through the Korn Ferry Finals. Anirban did what was asked of him with timely precision – he finished T7 in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship and followed through with a rousing final round effort in the Albertsons Boise Open to secure his card for 2019-20.
Anirban started that Sunday with birdies on the second and third. He settled into a nice rhythm with a steady run of pars through the fifteenth, before taking off with a hat-trick of birdies on the last three holes. That took him within three off the winner and T5. It was enough for him to finish eleventh on the Korn Ferry 25, to retain status on the PGA TOUR.
There are 31 qualification criteria, and the higher criterion enjoy a greater probability of making the field. The Top 125 in the FedexCup rankings are placed in criterion 20, while those that come in through the Korn Ferry path get in through criterion 27.
As Anirban is back inside the top 125 now, he will be able plan his schedule with a lot more certainty. He will start his season in the first week of October with the Sanderson Farms Championship and the Shriners Children’s Open in the following week. After a short break he will be back in action in the Bermuda Championship, playing four straight weeks through the RSM Classic.
The fall season has been rewarding for Anirban, who has made a habit of collecting a top ten finish almost every year through one of the events in the wraparound phase.
“I am happy again to have better control over my schedules,” said Anirban. “I expect to prepare better as I have clear sight to when I might play. I also hope to focus on staying health and improve my fitness.”
Timothy Guiliano is a new addition to his bag for 2021-22. The Connecticut native has shifted his homestead to Augusta, drawing from his experiences of reading the greens for David Frost during his early phase as a caddie. He has also carried the bag for Brandon Harkins, Tim O’Neal, Richy Werenski, and Lanto Griffin. The season will mark a decade of looping, and the partnership could yield a new high for both golfer and caddie if they make their way to Augusta National Golf Club through an early season victory.
Buckle up and enjoy the ride, in his seventh consecutive full season on the PGA TOUR. The wait for an elusive victory may end, after all.