Kuala Lumpur: Anirban Lahiri was "scared" when he made his Maybank Malaysian Open debut five years ago but the star Indian golfer tees up at the Asian Tour’s season-opening $3 million showpiece Thursday as one of the top contenders at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club's West course.
Following a career best year in 2014 where he finished second on the Order of Merit following two victories and seven top-10s, the 27-year-old will take on big names like title holder Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell, new Asian Tour number one David Lipsky, Thongchai Jaidee and Kiradech Aphibarnrat, both former champions of the Malaysian Open.
“It is easy to say that the first time I played in the Malaysian Open, I was a little bit scared and unsure of myself. That’s now in the past. Not only have I matured but I’ve improved mentally and I’m able to focus on what I need to do instead of what’s going on around me,” Lahiri, who was voted as the Players' Player of the Year in 2014, said Tuesday in a release.
“If anything it spurs me on to do better (playing in top fields). It inspires me to push myself a little harder. Having said that, I’ve played consistently in top notch fields. It is not a new experience anymore.”
Climbing his way into the world’s top-50 - Lahiri is currently ranked 73rd - is a priority for the new season while he also hopes to establish himself on the European Tour after gaining a card from Qualifying School and eventually play his way onto the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) Tour.
Lahiri is not ready to rest on his laurels in his quest for more glory.
“It is a clean slate. You’ve got to start from scratch. My goals are the same. Top-50, playing in Europe and America, these are all the goals that I will always have in mind right through my career,” he insisted.
“I have to build this season, primarily playing in the European Tour but I’ll play my minimum on the Asian Tour. I do enjoy being in Asia so I’ll still play here.”
With the Malaysian Open being co-sanctioned with the European Tour, Lahiri, who finished tied 10th here last season, is eager to start producing top results.
He managed to play in Abu Dhabi through a sponsor’s invite three weeks ago and failed to get into the fields in Qatar and Dubai.
Lahiri reckons the best way to rectify his lack of starts in Europe is by winning one of the co-sanctioned tournaments in Asia over the next three weeks to jump onto the winner’s exemption category.
“Sometimes it is tough to get into events early in the year. It is frustrating especially when you want to be out there competing. I’m at a stage where the more I play in better fields, the better I will be. If I do well this week, then it will have a positive impact. That’s the best way to move forward,” said Lahiri, who is a five-time Asian Tour winner.
“The game is good. I played in Abu Dhabi three weeks ago and that was my first event of the year. After that I was hoping to get into the last two events last week. I’ve been working hard on my game to make sure I don’t get into this type of situations next year.”