After winning ‘hurdle’ race, Anirban’s mantra: Go deep in Playoffs

Anirban Lahiri's mentality for the FedExCup Playoffs is to play his best and keep moving forward.
Anirban Lahiri's mentality for the FedExCup Playoffs is to play his best and keep moving forward.

The race to get into the FedExCup Playoffs was a close affair for Anirban Lahiri, and the run-up not really to his liking. Poor form, being struck by COVID-19 and the battle to regain optimum physical fitness, by his admission he is yet to get there, summed up the Regular Season.

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But as it goes, all’s well that ends well. Anirban cemented his spot in the Playoffs with a T46 at the Wyndham Championship, and is looking ahead to this week’s Northern Trust Open, the first event of the Playoffs which allows all 125 exempt players. How deep he goes, time will tell, but right now Anirban is happy to have a PGA Tour card for next season and the “reins in his hands” going into the Liberty National Golf Club.


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Excerpts from an interview:

Talk about your excitement to be back in the FedExCup playoffs.

Anirban: I’m thrilled. It’s been a challenging year, and I’ve had a few hurdles to jump over, and I’m happy that I find myself here. How far I go from here, the reins are back in my hands, and I can actually — if I just play well, I can make it even better.

Can you explain as to what finishing 121st in the FedExCup means as compared to maybe first or second in the Korn Ferry Tour finals?

Anirban: It’s a big difference. Eligibility is a  very big criteria on the PGA Tour. There’s a lot of different kinds of status you could have. Obviously, if you win a tournament, that’s the ideal status because that guarantees you every start more or less, and then like I said, we’re in the Playoffs. The deeper you go into the Playoffs, the better you finish on the FedExCup, the better your eligibility for next year.

If you do make it into the top 125, you’re almost guaranteed to play all the full field events. When I say full field events, it is barring the invitationals, which is Bay Hill, the Genesis, and Memorial, and also the CJ Cup and the ZOZO Cup, which are the other two short field events. So outside of these five events, you’re pretty much guaranteed entry into every other event, including THE PLAYERS Championship, which is almost like a fifth Major.

Whereas if you are, say, even third or fourth from the Korn Ferry category, which comes in two or three categories after 125, if you don’t play well in the early part of the season, which would be September through end of November, you could find yourself in a situation where you may get 10 or 15 less starts compared to where you would be even if you were the last guy from the 125 category.

With a chance to get into the BMW Championship, do you change how you approach this week on whether you need to be aggressive?

Anirban: I’ve been in this situation so many times in my career, and what I’ve found over the years is you just focus on what you need to do. You focus on hitting fairways. You focus on hitting it close. You focus on making those putts. You really focus on making as many birdies and minimizing your mistakes. I know it sounds like a broken record, but really that’s what you have to do. Any changes in strategy are only going to come in on a Saturday or a Sunday. If you are able to do what I just said well, only then can you find yourself in a position where there is a need or there is a benefit in changing your strategy.

Even at the (Tokyo) Olympics, it was the same thing. It was like, oh, you know you’re going to need to medal, you need a top three. Would any of us have played differently on a Thursday or Friday? I don’t think so. The idea is to work yourself into a position where you get to a Saturday back nine or a Sunday where you now know, okay, I’m four shots behind medal positions or I need to shoot 8-under today, or I’m in medal position, I need to minimize the mistakes, and do this. But nothing really changes until you can get yourself in that position.

So even though I know what I need to do to get to the next event, I don’t think it’s going to alter how I go about my golf because, only if I play that way, I’m going to maximize my chances to play my best. At the end of the day, it’s only if I play my best that I’m going to keep moving forward. So that’s got to be my mentality. You just keep doing what you’re supposed to do, and the results take care of itself.

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