Jeev leads Asian hopes at British Open, Lahiri to make debut
Lytham St Annes (England): Fresh from his triumph at the Scottish Open, Indian golfer Jeev Milkha Singh will lead the Asian challenge along with Thai Thongchai Jaidee -- winner of the Wales Open -- in the British Open, the oldest of four Majors in the world, on Thursday.
Two wins in two months by two Asians -- Jeev and Jaidee -- have suddenly brought Asian golfers into focus at the world stage and the duo will carry the hopes of billions of Asians at the Royal Lytham and St Annes here.
Over the years, Korea`s KJ Choi and Y E Yang were seen as the best Asian bets at a Major, but now both Jeev and Jaidee can pull off something big at any time.
It will also be the first time ever that two Indians will tee off at the Open as even before Jeev could book his place, 25-year-old Anirban Lahiri had won a place by topping the International Final Qualifying ? Asia and it will be his first time at a Major.
Jeev, whose only top-10 finish in a Major has been tied ninth at the PGA Championship in 2008, is not putting any undue pressure on himself, just because he is coming on the back of a fine win in testing Links conditions.
"I like golf in tough and testing conditions. Wind, cold and even rain makes golf, particularly Links Golf a real challenge and I actually love it, even though many find it taxing and even frustrating," says Jeev.
"I love links golf. A lot of feel and imagination is required. I enjoy every bit of it and I`m looking forward to this week," he said.
Three years ago, the 40-year-old had to pull off just before the start of The Open at Turnberry because of an injury but Jeev says he is ready to go this time.
"I`m excited to be back here. After what happened (he pulled out before the start in 2009), I am fitter and I`m ready. Couldn`t be better winning a tournament and coming into the Open championship," Jeev said.
"The course is looking superb. It is in great shape, just the way an Open course is expected to be. The key is to avoid the bunkers of which there are 206, and the rough is most unforgiving.
"I am treating this as another week. That`s why I`ve just showed up on Tuesday which I normally do and take it from there," he added.
Choi has a lot of hopes from Jeev and said: "He has been playing for a long time in Europe. When the wind blows, he can make his shots. He knows how to play."
"Jeev`s win is good for the young generation. They will want to follow him. There will be more Asians in Europe and America very soon," feels Choi, the first Asian to become a big name in world golf and winner of eight titles on the PGA Tour. His best at a Major has been fourth at the Masters.
Lahiri, who had earned his Major debut at The Open after shooting a final round five-under-par 67 at International Final Qualifying (IFQ) Asia in March, said senior pro Jeev`s victory has also motivated him to do well.
"Jeev`s win is great for the Asian Tour and fantastic for India. With Thongchai winning as well in Wales last month, it goes to show that our players can win in Europe and it`s a good thing. It certainly inspires me and I am sure I can that for many others in Asia," said Lahiri.
Thai veteran Prayad Marksaeng, playing his fifth British Open, added, "It`s good to see Asian players winning European Tour events in Europe. Jeev and Thongchai have a lot of experience and it`s a good sign for the others."
Jaidee said, "Jeev played so good in those conditions last week. You never know in golf who will win. In golf, you never know. Sometimes, it is just your week."
The Open apart, Jeev has one more goal and that is to get back to the top-50 of the world. "I take a lot of confidence (from Scottish Open) and I want to move back into the top-50 in the world and do well in the Majors," concluded Jeev.
Lahiri, a great believer and proponent of meditation says, "My meditation helps me stay in the moment and not get carried away and focus on what I need to do. It`ll play a critical role. I rely on meditation as it`ll only do me good."
Lahiri spends at least 20 minutes each day meditating.
In May Lahiri came to Lytham and St Anne`s with his coach Vijay Divecha to try and play some extra rounds.
"Those were very helpful and I hope to make use of that experience," he said.
On his debut at the Open, Lahiri said, "It is a great feeling, but still there is a tournament to be played. I am enjoying the moment, but I am not going to awed by it.
"The atmosphere is beautiful, the people come out here despite the rain and cold and you see families out with their kids in strollers. It`s a pleasure to be here and be part of a beautiful event. I`m hoping I can put in a good performance to make it better," he said.
There are a total of 12 Asian Tour players in the field this week, one of the highest in recent memory. It also includes the Asian No. 1 in 2011, Juvic Pagunsan of the Philippines.
Asia`s sole success at a Major has been that of YE Yang, who won the 2009 PGA Championships, where Jeev finished tied ninth for his best finish in 2008.
The field also includes Daniel Chopra, who played his early golf in India before taking Swedish nationality.