The distance between Bangalore, India and Fort Wayne, Ind., is 8,550 miles. As a global star on the rise, Anirban Lahiri made that detour to middle America last week, hoping the Web.com Finals are his path to the PGA Tour.
The last time we saw Lahiri in this country, he was celebrating a T-5 in the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits. It was the best finish by an Indian golfer in a major championship, and it locked down Lahiri’s spot on the Presidents Cup International side.
“This gives me a massive amount of confidence knowing I can be out here mixing it up with the best, knowing I need to get a little bit better to get over the line in the future,” Lahiri told me that day.
But within minutes of signing his card and doing interviews, Lahiri was huddled with his camp on the clubhouse patio, doing the hard math. Shaking his head in disbelief, he learned a closing bogey had cost him a spot in the Wyndham Championship, where he had hoped to secure Special Temporary Membership on the PGA Tour in 2014-’15.
The Web.com Finals, where at No. 38 he would be one of only two players in the top 100 of the World Ranking competing, became the only alternative to his goal. After returning to India for a three-week break, Lahiri turned around to join a cast of competitors in Indiana who were in much the same place he was a year ago at European Tour Qualifying School. Lahiri passed that test, won the Malaysian and Indian Opens, played in four majors and, at 27, became a national hero in a country of 1.5 billion people.
The idea of being a global player with the challenge of international scheduling is an issue Lahiri hopes to address after the first three events in the Web.com Finals. He plans to skip the Web.com Tour Championship to gain a week of rest before joining his Presidents Cup teammates in South Korea.
“I’ve had so many bridges to cross this year that I haven’t really thought even two weeks ahead of me,” Lahiri said before the opening round of the Hotel Fitness Championship in Fort Wayne. “If and when I do get the job done, I think these are good problems to have, and I’ll deal with them when the time comes.”
Lahiri learned the game as a boy playing a military course with his father, a physician in the Indian army, the conditions so ragged it forced preferred lies. He follows in the footsteps of Arjun Atwal, the first Indian winner of a PGA Tour event (2010 Wyndham Championship) and Jeev Milkha Singh, the first Indian golfer to crack the top 30 in the world. But Atwal and Singh were 37 when they achieved these milestones, not 27.
That age difference could influence the growth of golf in his country, especially with Lahiri projected to represent India in the 2016 Summer Olympics. “I’d like to believe a few more kids will play the sport and do this [the pro tour] and do better than this,” Lahiri said.
While he was taking a step back to go forward, Lahiri made the most of his opening week on the Web.com Tour, finishing T-6. He has come a long way since the Fiji International last August, when Presidents Cup captain Nick Price approached Lahiri and said he was keeping an eye on him for the International team. The next stop on the way to Seoul: the Small Business Connection Championship at River Run in Davidson, N.C.