All the President’s men

By: |
October 11, 2015 12:16 AM

It’s going to be a nail-biting finish at the President’s Cup, as international players hope to get one back against the Americans

It’s not been the best start for Anirban Lahiri at the President’s Cup: the Ryder Cup-style team event that pits a team of international golfers (sans Europe) against the top American players began last Thursday at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Korea. Hopefully, by the time you’re reading this on Sunday, the event will be poised for a race to the finish.

In case you haven’t been following the fortunes of the International squad, made even more interesting by the inclusion of Lahiri—the first Indian player to make the grade for the team—things got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Lahiri, paired with the Thai legend Thongchai Jaidee in the ‘Foursomes’, had no answers for the marauding American duo of Jimmy Walker and the mercurial Ricky Fowler. Fowler—who has shown over the course of the PGA Tour season that he has a penchant for sinking incredulous putts when they matter—holed three birdies in the opening four holes to go three-up. That set the tone for the match in which Jaidee and Lahiri didn’t have a chance, getting snuffed out by five holes with four holes left to play.

“I think both Thongchai and I were nowhere close to our best. We both struggled, and I think we just lost momentum. There were opportunities that I could have made a few more putts definitely, and then I think on the back nine, we just let it all get away from us really quick,” said Lahiri, who’s ranked first in Asia right now. Foursomes—a format in which both players play one ball between them, alternating shots till the ball is holed—did not seem to suit the Internationals and the Americans took three of the four matches on the first day.

Just when it seemed like the event was getting away from them, the Internationals found a champion in local lad Sangmoon Bae: with his Fourball match, with partner Danny Lee, all square with Americans Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker heading into the 18th hole on Friday, Bae rolled in a 12-ft pressure-packed birdie putt to seal a vital one-up win for the International team.

Bae’s last-hole heroics delivered one of the main highlights for the Internationals, who rallied from an overnight four-point deficit by winning three matches, halving one and losing another, as the second day’s score line ended with the United States ahead by 5.5 points to 4.5 points. Lahiri had to be part of the cheering squad, as International captain Nick Price chose to rest him on Friday. Price, who is hoping to be only the second International captain to win the Cup, was a relieved man on Friday evening. “Obviously, it was a really good day for us. I think the talk that we had last night in our team room helped an awful lot … calmed the guys down.”

At the time this column is being written, the Saturday morning Foursomes session had yielded two ties and a win each for the Internationals and the Americans, with the latter holding on to a slim one-point lead. In the afternoon Fourball session, the Internationals were leading in three of the four matches. Only Lahiri and Australian Adam Scott were trailing in their match against Phil Mickelson and Zach Johnson. Impossible to predict the day’s scores at this time, but this much is clear: the International squad has many rookies, including Lahiri, New Zealander Danny Lee, Bae, among others, who haven’t tasted defeat at the event before. In that sense, they aren’t carrying any negative baggage and matching the Americans shot for shot. There’s some gamesmanship going on too.  “There have been a couple of messages that we have received from certain individuals. I’m not at liberty to reveal that. There have been a lot of things that we’ve heard and read this week that have motivated us. Not that we need it, but it helps when you get that extra fire to go out there tomorrow and just compete,” Lahiri said wryly. The Indian is the only squad member at this point without a point to his name and fans in India will be hoping that he notches up a few (and a win!) before the event is over.

If he does, then the World number 39 will be brimming with confidence, as he heads next week to Macau to defend his title at the Venetian Macao Open against a spirited field, including the likes of South African star Ernie Els and the long hitting Thai, Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

From Macau, Lahiri will again tee it up with the big boys at the PGA Tour’s $ 7-million CIMB Classic. Lahiri’s purple patch began last year when he won the Malaysian Open and it’s a unique opportunity for him to aim for a unique Malaysian double. A victory here would be a fitting way to cement his ascension into the elite ranks of golf. Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club, where the event will be played, is much tighter and unforgiving than The Mines, which suited Lahiri’s length off the tee, and a battle of attrition is on the cards.

October is when the golf season really begins for the amateurs in north India. Already there’s a perceptible drop in temperature at dawn, and afternoon rounds are just a bit more bearable. It’s time to dust off those clubs, hit the range and tee it up. If you need inspiration, just follow Lahiri’s exploits this month!
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game

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