Dubai: Pebble Beach Golf Links may be one of the most venerated golf courses in the United States, and one that hosts a PGA Tour event—the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am—annually, but somehow, it never became a part of Anirban Lahiri’s schedule. It will all change next week after the Indian ace qualified for the third major of the season, the U.S. Open.
Finishing second in the Sectional Qualifier at Columbus, Ohio—which usually features the strongest field as most PGA Tour members compete at The Memorial and head there—resulted in a most welcome change of plan for the 31-year-old, who was otherwise staring at a two-week break at a time when playing tournaments was his top priority.
It’s been a lean year for Lahiri, who has dropped to No. 245 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) with just three PGA Tour events to show meagre OWGR points against. More importantly, he has slipped to No. 166 in the FedEx Cup standing after missing five cuts in 12 starts this year and not a single top-10 since the Mayakoba Classic in November.
By the end of the regular season—Wyndham Championship (Aug 1-4)—he needs to get back to inside the top-125 to secure his PGA Tour playing rights for 2019-20.
The good news ahead of the U.S. Open is that Lahiri is slowly but surely getting back into form. The cornerstone of his game is his iron play, and there have been enough indicators that after struggling for more than six months, he has rediscovered his mojo.
Lahiri finished tied 52nd with a score of 1-over par at the Memorial, but made a whopping 18 birdies in those four rounds. And then, at the grueling 36-hole US Open Sectionals, he added 14 more in his first 29 holes (he parred his last seven holes in the 10-under par effort). That’s an incredible 32 birdies in last 101 holes – almost at a rate of one every third hole.
“The frustrating part is not that I am unable to put together a score despite making so many birdies. You can never be unhappy about birdies, but it is definitely bugging that I am still making bogeys. I am working hard on eliminating them from my game. However, I can feel that my game is trending in the right direction and this is the best that I have played in a long time,” said Lahiri, who will extend his Indian record of playing Majors to 16 at Pebble Beach.
“Qualifying for the U.S. Open is very important for me considering that there are not many events left in the schedule. I have to make the best of all the opportunities I get, and it is also important that I go into a major championship feeling that I am playing well. I have played plenty of majors but not many where I felt I was playing close to my best golf. I really feel I do this time.”
A very interesting aspect of Lahiri’s qualifying story at Columbus was the fact that he played the two golf courses—Brookside and Scioto Country Club—virtually ‘blind’. He had no prior experience of the two layouts, but he also resisted from carrying the detailed yardage books, which have almost become a must-carry for every professional golfer these days.
In an exclusive interview to Sports Lounge, Lahiri said: “I wanted to spend less energy thinking and processing on the golf course, especially because I played them blind. I just looked into my caddy’s book whenever I needed to. I have made a number of errors from over-analysis on the course last two weeks at the Colonial and Muirfield, so that was an experiment in not allowing myself to do so.”
What Lahiri did not allude to, and something that he has spoken about at length in the past to this writer, is how he is trying to resurrect the ‘feel’ player he has always been. Obviously, there is no getting away with the yardage books in this day and age, but he wants to get back to trusting his eyes more and not getting too over reliant on supplied data.
Playing blind helped at the Sectional, and hopefully, it will also help at Pebble Beach.
Apart from scheduling issues—AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is a week before LA, which then leads to the Florida Swing, virtually home events for the West Palm Beach resident—Lahiri has avoided the journey down the 17-Mile Drive because he doesn’t like three-course tournaments and the fact that the weather at Pebble during that time of the year can be very cold and wet.
However, it could all turn out to Lahiri’s advantage.
“It is always good to have a prior knowledge of the golf course. However, the set-up of Pebble Beach during the AT&T Pro-Am, and the set-up during the US Open will be completely different. So, I think I will not reach the golf course with any preconceived notions, which can only be good,” he added.
“I am planning to reach there on Saturday, or Sunday morning, which will give me enough time to scope out the course.”
Lahiri has played in two U.S. Opens before this—in 2015 and 2016—and missed the cut in both. His last Major was the 2018 PGA Championship, where he missed the cut again.
The 2019 US Open starts Thursday, June 13.
La Liga’s pulling power not diminished by Neymar miss, says league’s India MD
New Delhi: Brand La Liga is too big an entity to be affected by Barcelona’s inability to sign Neymar, believes the league’s managing director for India Jose Antonio Cachaza.
Neymar’s transfer saga involving his former club Barca and fierce foes Real Madrid was the June-July transfer window’s talking point. Protracted negotiations happened over phases between the Brazilian star’s present employers Paris Saint Germain (PSG), Barca and Real.
Re-signing Neymar would have been viewed as a massive statement of intent by not only Barca but also by La Liga – which thrives on the Real-Barca rivalry – particularly after Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Madrid to Italy’s Juventus in 2018.
Ronaldo and Neymar’s move away from Spain was seen as a body blow to La Liga’s viewership pull in the Asian market. The PSG’s star return would have increased chances of TV saleability in the Indian subcontinent, where the league can be viewed live only on Facebook this season.
But Cachaza said La Liga can’t possibly boast of all the big names at the same time and is content with whatever they have.
“I don’t think that affects the interests of La Liga at all. Of course we want to have all the big stars with us. It would be great if Barcelona can sign Neymar. But we understand that we cannot have all the top players with us,” Cachaza told Sports Lounge in an exclusive chat.
The potential deal also managed to engage Lionel Messi, Barca’s talisman at first speaking about the deal’s necessity and then questioned his club efforts once negotiations fell through as time ran out. Cachaza said Messi remains the league’s face and it remains well placed to attract marquee names in the future.
“We have some top names with us, including the number 1 (Lionel Messi). So we have a lot to offer to fans in terms of football stars. We are sure it will remain that way in the future.”
Landing star names help European football leagues generate interest and bag lucrative TV deals in foreign shores. CR7’s move to Turin doubled Serie A viewership in India, while halving El Clasico’s impressions from 4 million to 2 million, as per BARC India television audience statistics. Cachaza admitted recreating the Messi vs Ronaldo rivalry would be tough for the league.
“Ronaldo leaving was a big loss. Our audience viewership was also affected. But we are happy that Ronaldo gave his best years to La Liga with Real Madrid. He chose to go to Italy to end his playing years there. That is good for him.
“It would be hard to replicate the rivalry of Ronaldo and Messi with any other player. Though La Liga would have benefitted had the rivalry remained in Spain. So it’s time to let go of it.”
Last year, La Liga’s official broadcaster showed select matches live. Reportedly, they weren’t keen on extending the association this season owing to commercial unviability.
Failing to find a broadcaster though doesn’t perturb Cachaza. Playing down prospect of the league’s reduction in viewership, he said they are focused on getting a headstart on live streaming of matches in India, where internet penetration is increasing steadily.
“We understand that it is a new approach to watch football, a sort of experiment. We know audience watch sports more through TV. But if some people start to watch it on a digital platform, hopefully more will follow. We are working with Facebook live towards that.
“Now viewing is more accessible, all they need is a mobile phone. It may take some time for results to show but we have taken a step in the right direction,” he added.
Real vs Barca has been La Liga’s trumpcard in its efforts to expand its push overseas. Cachaza insisted that it’s not only about the ‘Big Two’ but other clubs also remain part of the focal point.
“We are proud to have probably the two best clubs in the world. We are proud to have Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Sevilla. Apart from Real and Barca we have a lot to offer.”
Competition from the English Premier League (EPL) in India is intense. La Liga is keen for its brand to grow at a healthy rate, aware that there is a considerable gap between the two leagues in Indian TV audience.
“EPL started promoting their competition in Asia 20-25 years ago. We have only begun promoting La Liga 5-6 years ago. So we still have a long way to go. We are happy to be among the top two most viewed leagues in India.”
Facilitating arrangement of pre-season friendlies for Spanish clubs in India could be a way of gaining an extra yard over the EPL, but Cachaza said several factors need to match for that to happen. Girona FC were involved in a pre-season tournament, also involving Kerala Blasters and A-League side Melbourne City FC, in July 2018 at Kochi.
“We would be happy to facilitate La Liga clubs coming for pre-season matches in India. But that isn’t easy. The pre-season window is very short and it collides with the monsoon in India. Apart from our interest we also need to find a local promoter. That is how the system works,” Cachaza said.
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For Indian football’s sake, AIFF must disclose future plan for clubs, says Bhaichung Bhutia
New Delhi: Bhaichung Bhutia donned national colours for 17 years, 12 of them as captain. He hung up his boots in 2011, but did not stay away from the game.
He managed a professional club in Sikkim and remained the chairman of All India Football Federation’s (AIFF) technical committee. He heads a successful football school that has branches all over India.
“At least two footballers in the current national team, Ashique Kuruniyan and Aniruddh Thapa, were first spotted by our school,” he said with a tinge of pride in his voice.
Yet the soccer icon looked unsure when Sports Lounge asked him when the I-League could begin this season? “Will at all it be played this season,” Bhaichung asked back smilingly.
The smile on his face, however, vanished almost immediately. For him, it is not a subject to laugh about. Looking through the large window of the fashionable cafeteria in the Capital’s upscale Khan Market, Bhaichung spoke almost absent-mindedly.
How did Bhaichung Bhutia become the first superstar of Indian Football? I'm very glad to release the beautiful book "The Ballad of Bhaichung Bhutia". It's a short and must read pictorial book for young sports lovers! pic.twitter.com/Lv7KhN4ibr
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) September 15, 2019
“I hear they may start I-League in November. The announcement may come any time. But what Indian football urgently needs is a structure. That is missing for now.
“I felt assured when the AIFF in June said there would be a roadmap down the line for three years. But so far nothing has come out. Whether there will be a kind of merger between the ISL and I-League or two separate divisions, everything has to be laid out on the table. All stakeholders should be called and made a part of it.
“The I-League clubs should also know what is there in the offing. They would start preparing according to it. Even if there are divisions, there has to be promotion and relegation.
“But most importantly, there has to be an announced structure. Without it, you can’t operate,” the scorer of 42 international goals says emphatically.
There is one thing Bhaichung has no doubt about. The country’s top league, be it ISL or I-League, can’t flourish without the two Kolkata clubs.
“Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have to be there. The popularity, the support base, the emotion involved with these two clubs can’t be ignored. It has to be encashed. No league in India can reach dizzy heights without them.”
Bhaichung has a note of warning for the two clubs too. “If they have to play a truly professional league, then they also must change the style of functioning. The days are over when a football club can be run like a grocery shop.
“In I-League, year after year, the small-budgeted teams like Aizawl, Minerva, Chennai are winning the title. And these two clubs, despite spending money and having the support base and so-called tradition, are lagging behind. It clearly proves there is something seriously wrong in running those clubs.
“It doesn’t happen anywhere. The Leicester City may have won the league once but it is not going to be repeated again and again. The EPL will continue to be dominated by Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea etc.
“It doesn’t mean the smaller clubs have no role to play in football. They will continue to work honestly and the supply line of footballers will remain intact,” said the striker, who spent three seasons in England for the now-expelled Bury FC.
Surprisingly, Bhaichung is not in favour of reducing the five-foreigner rule in Indian football. At least not for the moment. “There has to be something on the plate for the spectators. At the same time, let the local players face the competition,” he said.
Bhaichung has the moral right to say so. In the inaugural NFL in 1996-97, the clubs were allowed to field five foreigners. Yet Bhaichung emerged the top scorer with champions JCT.
There is one thing that bothers him. Who will take the responsibility of scoring for India once Sunil Chhetri calls it a day? “Once we hunted in pairs. First, it was me and IM (Vijayan). Then me and Sunil. Who is the next one?
“Well I am happy the way Ashique Kuruniyan and Abdul Sahal are shaping up. They are hugely talented.” Bhaichung feels assured the Indian football is in safe hands.
Find more football stories at Jaydeep Basu.
Inexperienced South Africa has potential to improve: Amol Muzumdar
New Delhi: South Africa’s new interim batting coach Amol Muzumdar believes the team lacks maturity but can improve with proper guidance.
The former Mumbai batsman was appointed Proteas’ interim batting coach for the three-match Test series against India.current sports news
South African batsmen have struggled to score in their recent outings with the team failing to qualify for the ODI World Cup semifinals.
Asked about his observations regarding the deficiencies of the team, Muzumdar told Sports Lounge, “Yes inexperience is evident in South Africa team, but there is a scope for improvement.”current sports news
Great start to the tour of India last night with dinner with the High Commissioner of South Africa, His Excellency, Mr Sbu Ndebele and his wonderful staff & their families. It’s great to know our boys will have a few familiar faces to look out for on match days. #ProudlySA 🇿🇦 pic.twitter.com/iujr20WKNp
— Cricket South Africa (@OfficialCSA) September 9, 2019
“Once, I will join the team, I will be able to analyse what exactly is the problem. Also, I am very excited about this new chapter of my coaching career”, he added.
Muzumdar will join the South African team on September 18 at Mohali. The three match-Test series will be beginning at Visakhapatnam (October 2-6) followed by matches in Pune (October 10-14) and Ranchi (October 19-23). South Africa was defeated in a four Test match series 0-3 by India in 2015.
Before the Test series, India and South Africa will engage in a three- match T20 series.
Muzumdar made his first class debut for Mumbai (Bombay) in 1994 against Haryana and made total 11,167 runs in first class cricket. He is the second-highest run-getter in the history of the Ranji Trophy.
Muzumdar holds wide coaching experience, including batting coach of Rajasthan Royals in the Indian Premier League (IPL), India’s Under 19 and Under 23 sides at the National Cricket Academy. He has been the batting coach of the Netherlands In December 2013.
Commenting on the Muzumdar’s appointment, Cricket South Africa’s (CSA) acting director Corrie Van Zyl said, “He brings an intimate knowledge of Indian playing conditions and the challenges our batsmen are likely to face.
“He also assisted us at the spin bowling camp we held recently in India and thus has already built up a good working relationship with Aiden Markram, Temba Bavuma and Zubayr Hamza.”
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