Preview: Lahiri, Mane aim to change face of Indian golf with medal at Olympics
Anirban Lahiri and Udayan Mane will carry the Indian hopes when the Olympic golf competition tees off on Thursday and the seasoned campaigners said they are out to change the face of the sport in the country with a strong showing at the Kasumigaseki Country Club here.
With 60 players in the field and no cut being applied, Lahiri, who is coming off a top-3 finish on the PGA Tour, knows he has the game to spring a surprise or two.
Lahiri has come with S Chikkarangappa as his caddie.
Chikka is one of the top golfers on the domestic circuit and has multiple top-3 finishes on the Indian tour.
He Is also looking forward to learning from the experience. Mane has his usual caddie Rupesh. Both Lahiri and Mane train with Vijay Divecha.
The women's event to be held next week will see Aditi Ashok in action and it will be her second Olympics like Lahiri.
"It'll be huge," said Lahiri on the prospect of a medal in golf for India.
"As you can imagine, it's a big deal. The Olympics is a big deal. We had our first (women's weightlifting) silver on the first day of the Games...I can feel how it will boost that sport positively and I would love for it to happen in golf.
"This is a great opportunity to have a first with golf for us to change the perception and attitude."
Fellow Bengalurean Mane added, "It will mean that the face of golf will change permanently."
"Right now, there is a select amount of people who know what golf is in our country. If we can win a medal, people will know what golf is, all the 1.3 billion people in India.
"There'll definitely be more kids taking up golf. It will change how everyone looks at golf in India. Cricket will always be No. 1 but we'll at least be able to reduce the gap."
Lahiri is also seeking to make amends for finishing 57th out of 60 golfers in Rio 2016 Games.
Back then, he was coming off an injury but this time, the 2015 Hero Indian Open winner, enters the week in good form following a top-three finish at the Barbasol Open, his best of the season.
"I definitely have a lot more intent, more focus, more believe and definitely more confidence. To compare last time and this time, it's totally different. I came with an injury...
"Feels like I'm moving in the right direction with my golf and with my body. I think it's good timing for me."
Mane, 30, who 11 victories on the domestic circuit, grew up competing in swimming and basketball before being bitten by the golf bug which saw him pursuing the sport as a career. Getting on the flight to Tokyo was a dream come true after he qualified as the 60th player when entries closed last month.
Staying with the Indian contingent at the Games Village has provided Mane with an experience of a lifetime.
"I've definitely realised one thing...I've got to work much harder on my fitness seeing all the athletes over there. The atmosphere is really intense. Everyone is trying to peak at the right moment is pretty cool to watch," he said.
"I spoke to a few Norwegian female weightlifters and they had more muscles than I do! They were ripped and were as tall as I am.
"They were more curious about golf than anything else, asking me like how we play 18 holes and that was pretty cool. I met a few other Indian athletes, too," he added.
Donning India's tri-colours, as he did at the Asian Games in 2014, and finished fourth, one place outside the medals, is spurring Mane.
"It always invokes the feeling of going beyond yourself. You're not here for yourself this week. Anirban Lahiri is not playing for Anirban Lahiri. I'm playing for India."
"Wearing your nation's colours make a difference. It's a hugely positive thing," he added.