It’s the stuff of dreams.
A rookie professional anxiously waiting for word if he has a place in the biggest tournament of the year finds out that not only can he tee it up but that he will be playing alongside one of the world’s leading players.
That’s what happened to India’s Anirban Lahiri at the Singapore Open in 2008.
As he sat staring at the phone in his hotel room willing for it to ring, news came through that Ian Poulter had pulled out of the tournament and Lahiri would be partnering none other than superstar Phil Mickelson for the opening two rounds.
Since then Lahiri’s career has flourished, with seven Asian Tour wins to his credit including this year’s Malaysian Open and Indian Open both of which were co-sanctioned by the European Tour.
In this article Lahiri recalls the experience of playing the Singapore Open in the company of Mickelson, what the two of them chatted about and how he was inspired by the chance encounter with greatness.
It was my first year on the Asian Tour and I had had a terrible season.
I was first reserve on Monday and I got in on Wednesday evening. I was really thrilled to be playing in the tournament, then I was told that I was playing with Phil (Mickelson).
That was even more special because I was 20 years old and taking baby steps in professional golf.
It was a very good experience. I learnt a lot from it.
I was supposed to take a flight out (to India) on Wednesday night. I slept in the afternoon on Wednesday because I couldn’t play the practice round as the pro-am was on. I wasn’t expecting to play in the tournament as well!
But when I found out I had a spot, I couldn’t sleep at night because I was so excited.
I look back very fondly at the experience – it’s good to have that as a memory. (Now) I’ve played with a lot of good players such as Phil Mickelson and you learn how they handle themselves.
They have perfect etiquette on and outside the golf course. They’re fantastic players and great ball strikers. You don’t just learn about their skills but also how to handle yourself.
When so many people are looking at you, you have to conduct yourself in an amicable and professional level. You can learn from it and that’s what I’ve tried to do over the years.
(Thinking back to those two rounds) he was telling me how he came out on the US PGA Tour, how he played college golf and how he won a tournament while he was an amateur.
He also told me how he finished his education and came back on the last year of his winner’s exemption and kept playing and winning.
Generally, my round with him was quite chilled out. He made me feel very comfortable. All these great players conduct themselves really well and that’s what I’m trying to do as well.
My experience of playing with Phil has definitely inspired me in my career. When you see quality like that, you kind of realise where you need to take your game to. You get a benchmark and try and be that good. Not just game wise but in every other way as well.
You see them hit some shots that you can’t hit but you work on that and increase your effort.
These guys have got so many shots in their bags. They move the ball both ways, high and low and these guys hit it at will. They are able to pull it off whenever they need it and the control that they have is what I’m trying to do.
I used to be a single ball flight player but I can happily say that I can hit it both ways now and I’m equally comfortable with my shots.