India's Lahiri is one in 1.25 billion

By Rex HoggardMay 5, 2016, 9:53 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – He grew up a batsman/wicket-keeper, which for those who aren’t cricket savvy is akin to a hard-hitting catcher in baseball. He embraced yoga years ago and practices Vipassana meditation three to four times a week.

If that doesn’t sound like the blueprint for a modern PGA Tour professional, consider Anirban Lahiri the exception to nearly every cherished rule of grooming a singularly focused and driven athlete.

For Lahiri, who is one shot off the lead at the Wells Fargo Championship after a flawless 6-under 66, the sum of his unique parts begins in India where he grew playing cricket, like a large portion of the country’s 1.25 billion citizens.

At age 8, his father, an officer in the army, introduced him to golf, which wasn’t exactly an easy or effortless endeavor.

“I would probably say Palm Springs [Calif.] and Florida, by themselves, have more tournament courses than all of India put together,” he said. “Just to give you perspective, it's not that big.”

Yet while golf may be a small fish in India’s large cricket-dominated pond, Lahiri is a big deal back home.

Last year he posted the best finish by an Indian in a major when he tied for fifth place at the PGA Championship, and became the first from his country to play in the Presidents Cup.

Where some see a 28-year-old global journeyman, back home in Bangalore he’s a bona fide trailblazer after grinding his way through the Tour finals series to earn his Tour card for this season.

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Everything about Lahiri is different from the Tour’s rank and file – he's soft-spoken, modest and, above all else, thankful for this and every opportunity he’s been given.

Even his Tour status is more complicated than those he’s competing against. As a member of the 2015 Tour graduating class he struggles to get into many of the regular events, but his position in the World Golf Ranking (55th) has given him spots in all three of this season’s World Golf Championships and the Masters.

He considers himself a rookie despite 15 international victories, and although he’s gotten off to a slow start in his Tour career (he has just one top-25 finish in 12 events this season), Lahiri feels like he’s making progress in his transition to the United States.

He recently set up a home base in the U.S. with his wife, Ipsa, moving into a new house the week after the Masters at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

“It was something that was needed. It’s not easy hauling 250 pounds around every week in luggage,” said Lahiri, who played tournaments in 2015 in the United Arab Emirates, China, Malaysia, Korea, France and, of course, India.

Learning the game in such a relatively undeveloped golf nation would be considered a liability for most aspiring professionals, but Lahiri wears it like a badge of honor.

“It's not just India, there's a lot of countries which are not huge on golf, but obviously there's going to be a few of us who love the sport enough and want to work hard enough and dream big enough to want to come here and play here and try to win events,” he said. “I think I'm just one of those guys. We are a minority but there's a few of us.”

That kind of clarity of thought could only come through meditation, right?

Players often talk about playing for their countries, particularly this year with the approaching Olympic Games, but Lahiri knows every week he tees it up he’s playing for 1.25 billion back home in India. It’s a perspective that brings into sharp focus the ongoing narrative the last few weeks as one player after another his withdrawn from Olympic consideration.

Lahiri, who is a lock to represent India in this year’s Games, had a slightly different take when asked his thoughts on this year’s Games.

“It would be huge,” Lahiri said. “How many people watch the Olympics in India? I would say eight or nine out of 10 people. How many people watch the Masters or the Open Championship? Probably one out of 100.

“Just in terms of eyeballs, just in terms of popularity, in terms of just making people aware of the sport or having the government take a stronger initiative to promote the sport, it would be massive. I think the Olympics is a huge stage for India in terms of golf.”

Lahiri began practicing Vipassana meditation when he was 17 at the urging of his parents. He said it helps him to keep things in perspective.

“I wish I could do it every day. That’s the goal - it’s the same as working out. You want to work out every day but you can’t. With meditation it really keeps me quite stable and calm,” he said.

Loosely translated, Vipassana meditation means to see things as they really are. In the case of Lahiri that’s an uncommonly calm and committed aspiring Tour professional.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.