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 Web.com Tour finals series to earn his Tour card for this season.
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 Web.com 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.