Lahiri takes tough lesson from Presidents Cup

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Anirban Lahiri (Chung Sung-Jun/ Getty Images)

INCHEON, South Korea – Anirban Lahiri was seconds away from being the star in a dream debut at the Presidents Cup.

The rest is a blur.

His birdie putt just inside 4 feet rammed off the right side of the cup and spun out. His putter tumbled out of his hand and over his back. He stood on the 18th green with his hands clasped together, the tips of his fingers covering his mouth.

“I would like to rewind and just change the last 10 seconds of it,” Lahiri said.

It wasn’t all on Lahiri, the 28-year-old who made history in these matches as the first player from India. The Presidents Cup would have then ended in a tie the way it played out with Bill Haas winning the final match for a 15½-14½ victory for the United States.

At that moment, rarely has such a competition seen such a swift turnaround.

The Presidents Cup was tied, and with the status of other matches on the course, a point from Lahiri looked as though it would be the winner for the International team. Lahiri was all square with Chris Kirk, both players short of the green on the par-5 18th and facing tough chips.

Lahiri played his to near perfection, up the slope and rolling to 4 feet away. Kirk had a steeper slope and, wanting to at least make sure he had a putt, he chipped in 15 feet long and faced a tough downhill putt that broke two directions.

Kirk’s putt dropped on the final turn. Lahiri quickly settled over his putt … and missed.

“I have to give credit to Chris for making that putt,” Lahiri said. “These things are scripted, I guess. And I wasn’t in the script.”

He was the last player to file out of the closing press conference for the International team. He spoke with poise, exuding the kind of graciousness that already has made him popular with the PGA Tour players he will join next year in America.

Lahiri is not the first player to be exposed for a miss on a big stage. The most famous missed putt in a Ryder Cup was by Bernhard Langer in 1991 at Kiawah Island. Lahiri’s captain, Nick Price, missed a short putt to lose a critical match at the Presidents Cup in 2003 and snapped the putter over his knee. Hunter Mahan muffed a chip short of the green to end his last chance in Wales at the 2010 Ryder Cup.

There are stars. And there are nightmares.

“This is certainly not how I would’ve wanted to have my first Presidents Cup play out,” Lahiri said. “I do feel terrible right now, obviously. It’s going to be hard for me to sleep tonight. I’m sure the rest of the team is going to help me out with that with the evening’s festivities.”

As disappointed as Lahiri was in the outcome, he was thrilled for Kirk. They were the only two players who had not earned a point for their teams, and the normally stoic Kirk was so excited that he slammed his fist toward the ground when his putt went in.

“One thing I’ve learned is to never wish bad on anyone else,” Lahiri said. “When it did go in, I was happy for him.”

Lahiri still knew his short putt for a halve would be critical. It would have assured the International team a tie, and perhaps inspire Bae Sang-moon in the final match to level his match with Bill Haas for the victory.

“I didn’t do my part,” Lahiri said.

He said Bubba Watson was among the first to approach him to share how Watson also had missed that putt. Price also consoled him privately and in public.

“I feel so bad for Anirban, as we all do,” Price said. “We are going to cheer Anirban up. We are going to make sure he goes away from here with a wonderful experience and not let him dwell on what happened today.”

For Lahiri, he has to move on. He was headed to his next tournament in Macau and had two events in Malaysia and China at the end of the month.

Lahiri, who won two European Tour events early in the year to qualify for his first Masters, finished fifth in the PGA Championship and narrowly missed earning enough money for a PGA Tour card. But he did well enough in the Tour Finals to earn a U.S. card, and he plans to play a full schedule in America.

And he would like nothing more than to be on the next International team in 2017 at Liberty National.

“Hopefully, I get a chance to redeem myself in years to come,” Lahiri said.