September 23: Anirban Lahiri and Arjun Atwal will tee up together in the same group at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship starting on Thursday. While Lahiri, who was T-36 at Safeway Open, makes his second start of the season, Atwal, who played four events when golf returned after the hiatus due to Covid-19, makes his first start of the new season. They are group together alongside David Hearn in the Dominican Republic.
There is more Indian connection, as the field also includes two-time PGA Tour winner, the Indo-Swede Daniel Chopra, a great friend of both Lahiri and Atwal. Yet another one in the field is 18-year-old left-hander Akshay Bhatia, who is of Indian origin, but was born and brought up in the US, and is now mentored by Phil Mickelson.
Lahiri and Atwal go off together at 11.30 am on first day, while Daniel Chopra plays with Johnson Wagner and Seamus Power in one of the earliest groups at 6.50 am, and Akshay Bhatia plays with Ted Purdy, who an Asian Tour event in India in 1997, and Joseph Bramlett at 8 am.
The Asian Tour flag will also be flown by Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Kim Joohyung and Kurt Kitayama this week.
Lahiri was happy with his start at Safeway Open and is hoping to gain further momentum, as he makes his debut at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic.
A confident Lahiri, said, “The game feels really good at the moment. Safeway was a good confidence booster as after the bad start, I was able to finish strong which felt great.”
Playing in his sixth season on the PGA Tour, Lahiri had done well to recover from a first round 74 at Safeway to add rounds of 65, 67 and 70. It was his best finish since T30 at the Valspar Championship in March, 2019 and his second round 65 was his lowest score since shooting the same number during the second round of the John Deere Classic in July, 2019.
“I spent a lot of time during lockdown in India, where I went for Hero Indian Open (his last win came at the same event in 2015) but with it being cancelled and the lockdown happening I stayed on in India with the family. And I returned for just one event, Wyndham, in the previous season and then the Safeway. So, I rested and also worked during my downtime at home with my coach Vijay Divecha,” said Lahiri, a former two-time Presidents Cup International Team member. “We worked on various aspects, broke down everything and did a lot of work on swing and re-built it in a way.”
Lahiri, who is making his first trip to the Corales Golf Club, which has six holes that run along the Caribbean Ocean, said, “The golf course here reminds me of my days on the Asian Tour. Similar grasses and temperatures and conditions to what I played for years back home. Definitely a feeling of familiarity even though it’s my first time here.”
Atwal, India’s first and only winner to date on the PGA TOUR, is seeking a strong start to the 2020-21 season. He played in four events when golf returned to action during the pandemic. He made cuts in three of them, and missed only once in Wyndham, an event he won in 2010.
“It felt good during that stretch and playing four times in seven weeks also gave me an idea of my strength, because during practise rounds, we mostly use carts. I am proud that I held up at 47,” said Atwal with a characteristic laugh. “It will be great to play with Anirban. It is like playing at home and in a great atmosphere and the venue itself is superb. I am looking forward to this.”
The field has some familiar Asian Tour names like Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Kurt Kitayama.
The highest ranked player in the field Henrik Stenson at No. 43 and it also includes the defending champion Graeme McDowell, who while winning the 2019 edition ended a five-year-long PGA Tour title drought, though he won in February this year. He has however missed seven cuts in his last nine starts since the Tour re-started in June.
One of the most keenly watched players will be Will Zalatoris, who in his first start on PGA Tour since Wyndham 2018, finished T-6 at the US Open at Winged Foot. This Korn Ferry graduate is the one to watch for in the near future.