Nassau, Bahamas : Tiger Woods gave no indication of the timeline when he could be back to playing golf, but he sure feels that Anirban Lahiri, who makes a debut at his tournament, the US $ 3.5 million Hero World Challenge, and Indian golf are on an upward curve. He felt Lahiri has a great future ahead of him. Not just this week, but in the next season on the PGA Tour, at the Olympics and beyond.
Looking excited at the prospect of playing alongside the best in the world, including World No. 1 and defending champion, Jordan Spieth, Lahiri, on the eve of the 2015 Hero World Challenge, said, “Yeah, it’s been a very, very important year for me. It’s been a great year, lots of firsts. Getting my card for next year in America, playing the Presidents Cup, Top five at Whistling Straits (PGA Championships. So I’ve had a highlight-filled year. But just being here at such a great event amongst the best players in the world,” said Lahiri, who plays his first round with Jordan Spieth.
He added, “I would like to thank Mr. Pawan Munjal and the Tiger Woods Foundation for having me because these are the kind of events and fields that you want to play against every week and I’m really excited. So I’m looking forward to a good week.”
Lahiri’s sponsor, Pawan Munjal, the Chairman, Managing Director and CEO of Hero MotoCorp, picked Lahiri as a Brand Ambassador five years ago and now more than ever is convinced he has a “winner” in his stable.
Munjal, a keen golfer, first waxed eloquent on the golf course and Beautiful Bahamas, said of the tournament, “I remember last year Jordan had flown in halfway across the world from Australia after winning the Australian Open there and then he lifted the trophy in Orlando at Isleworth. I understand he’s done the same this year. Other than not winning (he was tied second with Adam Scott, also in the field) in Australia, he’s flown in from Australia again.”
On Lahiri, he said, “It’s a little different from last year (HWC). We were just the two of us sitting on the dais, Tiger and me. Now we have, in addition to the two of us, Anirban Lahiri from India. For him, it’s the first time playing the Hero World Challenge. I feel very proud to have an Indian pro as part of the top 18 pros playing the Hero World Challenge.”
Woods is very positive on Lahiri’s potential. He added, “Yeah, I watched him at the PGA at Whistling Straits this year. He had a wonderful chance, played really well. He was doing everything well, just ran into a couple guys ahead of him that did everything well as well. So how many “wells” can I say in that?
“But after getting to know him and watching him play, he has an inordinate amount of talent and it was just a matter of him committing to play over here. He went through the process, went through the European Tour, earned his way out here and now has his card. And with all that talent and with his work ethic, I mean, he could achieve a lot and I certainly expect him to do that going forward and it would be fun to watch.”
Woods is also convinced that bringing golf into the Olympics was a master move. He maintains that this is a big catalyst for golf, saying, “Well, it (golf) has already has been (a catalyst) in lot of countries even before starting. As a result a lot of governments have gotten involved and subsidized golf programmes at the grassroots level to get players for not just the 2016 Olympics, but 20 (2020) or 24 (2024).
They are trying to grow a bigger base, so that more athletes have a chance to be part of the Olympics or win the Olympics. Hopefully, well I am sure Anirban will be part of Olympics, and he will do great. Hopefully he wins it. That will be a huge explosion for the whole of India.”
Woods said, “A lot of my impressions (on Indian golf) stem from Arjun (Atwal). He is a great friend of mine. And then I got a chance to play with Jeev at his first Masters (2007). Arj (Arjun) is one of my best friends. I have gotten to know these guys on a different level, its been a lot of fun. What they have done for Indian golf, and what Anirban is doing now, (which is) leading the charge, it is a lot of fun to watch.”
“What Pawan (Munjal) has done with Hero in India. That’s important and that’s how I see the game growing in India. It was fun being in Delhi, to see the excitement and level of Indian golf. And also I got a chance to watch my niece (Cheyenne, who played in Hero Womens Indian Open) play. So it’s across all spectrums,” he said.