Oct 11, 2017: With one victory and a T3 at TPC Kuala Lumpur, India’s golf star Anirban Lahiri is itching to return to the USD7 million CIMB Classic for the sixth time from October 12-15. In this Q&A, the Presidents Cup International team member talks about his love for the event and venue plus an insight into his recent 2016-17 PGA TOUR campaign.
1. How much are you looking forward to the CIMB Classic at a venue where you’ve got a great track record?
I’m super excited obviously. There was that disappointment last year on Sunday (where he led into the last round and finished T3) but there were a lot of positives too, like holding my first 54-hole lead on the PGA TOUR. I certainly have a lot of good memories as I won there before (2015 Malaysian Open on the Asian/European Tour). I feel right at home at TPC Kuala Lumpur and the CIMB Classic feels like a good event for me and I get a lot of fantastic support. It’ll be a lovely homecoming and hopefully I’ll be able to go the distance this time.
2. Have you been pleased with your 2016-17 PGA TOUR season and how much of a high was it to get the phone call from Nick Price as a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup?
The season honestly was a mixed bag, I had four good weeks and lot of bad performances as well. It’s the most cuts I’ve missed in the last five years. That wasn’t good but I also had some top-5s and top-10s. All in all, I finished 51st on the FedExCup standings which was a decent effort. I like to be there at the Tour Championship but I guess it’s one step at a time. I’ve made progress, and I’m comfortable out here on the PGA TOUR. The golf courses are not as unfamiliar as they were in my rookie season, and I’ve made a lot of progress from that aspect. But I feel like I’ve under-performed. I feel I should have contended more. That’s something which I’d like to change, I’d like to contend more and get that first win under the belt. It’s a great way to start in Asia, on familiar ground. It’s something you’ll find me coming back every year to play the CIMB Classic for sure as it’s one of my favourite events. It’s a good way to start the new season. And then we have the new tournament in Jeju island as well (CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES). The PGA TOUR is the most competitive tour in the world. You need your A game to win.
As for the Presidents Cup call, it was a really nice surprise to get the call from Nick. Prior to that, all the top International players like Adam (Scott), Jason (Day), Branden (Grace) were rallying me to play well, saying stuff like “come on … you can do it” which was really nice to hear. And I was glad to respond with a top-10 at the BMW Championship that same week.
3. What is it about TPCKL that you enjoy and produce some of your best golf?
I’ve played so many tournaments there, from the days of the Malaysian Open to CIMB Classic. I don’t think there’s a hole where I’ve not made birdie on that course. You can draw on that. I know how to navigate the course. You know where you can be aggressive and cautious on. I’ve played in every weather condition and played when rough is high or low, greens are soft or hard. It’ll make it easy for me to process my strategy. That’s the advantage the PGA TOUR pros have on the U.S. courses. So this is an event which I feel I have an advantage compared to the other events that I play in the U.S.
4. How do you compare the Anirban of 2017 vs the Anirban of 2015 and what has been the key difference?
2015 feels like a long time ago now (laughter) because I’ve grown a lot. I turned 30 this year so I’m no longer the young sensation! I’m truly a veteran now being a pro for 10 years. I’ve had to adapt, learn a lot and change my game to better suit myself out here on the PGA TOUR. What I haven’t done was to win twice which I did in 2015. That’s my priority … to win, I’ve been winless the past year and half. I’ve got four more events this year to do it.
5. With the Asian Tour top-10 players getting into the CIMB Classic, how does this impact the development of players and golf in Asia?
I think it’s huge. When I played as an Asian Tour member, I played with Pat Perez and Tim Clark one year and I remember they were a bit impressed with the way I played as they haven’t seen me previously. We had a chat and they thought I could definitely play on the PGA TOUR and said I was better than the average player on TOUR. When you have those moments, you get that affirmation from the best guys in the world and they give you the confidence to believe in yourself. Today, we play day in, day out and we’re playing at the same level. So unless you put yourself against that level and compete against them, you won’t know what are the possibilities. The CIMB Classic gives opportunities to the Asian Tour players. If they work hard, play a bit better, they can get through to the PGA TOUR. That’s what I went through. You have a week like Cameron Smith did one year, it makes a big difference. And some of the guys like Angelo (Que), Kiradech (Aphirbarnrat) and Scott (Hend) have played well in the event previously.