Having spent some time off in the Himalayas, Lahiri is back fresh and training his sights on leaving a mark on the US PGA Tour besides putting on a good show in Rio 2016.
“I continue to play the sport because it’s probably my first love,” he says passionately. “It’s something that I really enjoy doing!”
KIDS MY AGE ENCOURAGED EARLY YEARS
It was a matter of just accompanying my father in the initial days that got me attracted to golf. He had started playing golf with his friends and the other officers a few months after he had retired from the Army. That’s how it kind of started. Every cantonment he was posted in had a golf course he could always cycle down to. It was right around the corner. So, I used to go and hit some golf balls.
My love affair with the game started after I played my first National junior event in 1998-99 in Calcutta. I was about 11 or 12 years old when we visited my grandparents, and it became a might-as-well-play-a-tournament sort of a trip. That’s where I fell in love with the game because I saw a lot of other kids my age playing. Up until that point of time, it was only my father, his friends and most of the other officers. There were no kids. So, when I saw other kids play that really excited me and it gave me something to look forward to so I could keep going back and play these tournaments. That’s what excited me in the early years.
ADJUSTED ALL THE TIME
There have been plenty of challenges. Coming from a very humble Army background, it was never easy to afford equipment, which is quite expensive. I never really received formal coaching till I was around 14 or 15. The Army courses I grew up playing on were not of the best standard. So, every time I played on a good golf course, I had to make a big adjustment. Then, of course, the game itself has its own challenges. It’s a very mentally demanding game and requires tremendous amounts of concentration. As I started playing more seriously, I needed financial help. I was very fortunate to have a few people come to my aid. Gati Cargo and Logistics was my first sponsor at the age of 18. They employed me and allowed me to play amateur golf. The challenges were to keep improving, getting better and get to the next level before turning professional. The challenges continue to be there. That’s what makes this game beautiful – whether you have played as a professional or an amateur, it’s a lot of fun.
DEEP RESPECT FOR TIGER WOODS
Tiger Woods inspired me the most when I was growing up in an era where anybody and everybody who watched the sport idolised Tiger. He’s still someone I deeply respect. Even now I don’t think if there ever was a more complete golfing athlete!
THANKFUL TO ARJUN AND JEEV
I’m very inspired not just by Tiger but our own golfers like Arjun Atwal and Jeev Milkha Singh. Golf was never a major sport in India but it’s starting to come up a little more in the last 10 years or so. In the 90s and the early 2000s when Arjun and Jeev were actually putting India on the map, it was just fantastic. I am thankful to them.
GOAL IS TO KEEP GETTING BETTER
I’m looking more westward now. I’ll be playing more in America next year, hoping to try and get my breakthrough win there. I’ll also try and do well in the Majors. I’m just trying to move on and reset my targets next year and try and break into the top 20 or 30 in the world rankings. Just keep getting better. The goal has always been to become a better player each year and if that happens I’ll be very happy.
EAGLE-EYED FOR AN OLYMPIC MEDAL
I will most likely be in Rio for the Olympic Games. That is obviously one of my major targets and I want to be there and I want to ideally get a medal. That’ll make a big difference to golf in India and how it’s viewed, and it’ll probably change the Government’s approach as well. We’ll probably get a little more support.
ON THE PRODIGIOUS SHUBHAM JAGLAN
He’s really doing things that no one has done before. And obviously he’s a very, very big talent. I just hope he continues to improve and keeps doing what he is doing. He’s someone that all of us, as a nation, need to protect and support. Hopefully, he carries on to bigger, better things.