Lahiri, SSP paired as Asia keen to challenge strong Europeans
Kuala Lumpur: The pairings for the opening fourball matches at the EurAsia Cup expectedly saw Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia feature together. The draw was made in an easy atmosphere laced with humour and a lingering debate on the format.
The more accomplished and experienced Europeans, led by Dane Thomas Bjorn, have all their 12 players inside Top-75 of the world, while Arjun Atwal, the only Indian to have won on the PGA Tour, helms Asia and has only seven players in Top-100.
Atwal's two strongest pairings bookended the opening day's draw. An Beyong-hun and Kiradech Aphibarnrat take on 2017 European Tour No. 1 Tommy Fleetwood and World No. 14, Paul Casey, a two-time World Matchplay runner-up, while Indians Anirban Lahiri and SSP Chawrasia meet Tyrell Hatton and Ross Fisher in the sixth and final match.
Atwal, who said that he had relied a lot on Lahiri and Chawrasia for inputs on other players, added, "The language thing has not been an issue at all. Everybody speaks English. Maybe with some you have to talk a little bit slower but everybody understands it."
"Anirban was really helpful. He's obviously played in these before and also he knows a lot of the younger players. So any time I had any questions he's been very helpful and so has SSP. He knows a bunch of the guys and he's played with them."
Lahiri and Chawrasia, who asked to be paired together, were happy with their pairing. Chawrasia, said, "We have played a lot of golf together and some practise rounds, too. We chose each other because we know each other's game and understand each other."
Lahiri added: "I think it was a natural decision for I think for Arjun and SSP and myself. SSP and I are very comfortable with each other. We have great communication. We were at the Olympics a couple years ago, and I think we have very complementary game styles. SSP is one of the most consistent players here this week, He's a great putter and I've been in good form finishing the year, so I feel confident."
Europe will send out Fleetwood and Casey first. First-timer at EurAsia Cup Casey is seeking a step in the direction of finding his way back into Ryder Cup squad for the first time since 2008. He comes with the experience of being on winning teams in Ryder Cup (2004 and 2006), WGC-World Cup (2004) and Seve Trophy (four times) and Fleetwood had a stellar year ending as Europe No. 1.
Byeong An is the 2015 BMW PGA Champion and European Rookie of the Year, while Kiradech, World No. 49, won the Paul Lawrie Match Play in 2016.
On the debate about formats, Bjorn felt four fourball and four foursomes instead of six of each besides 12 singles had its own challenges. He added, "It's an argument that's ongoing and it tends to be that the team that's losing in one of these events thinks that the format should be changed. You know, the Americans wanted the format changed for many years in The Ryder Cup to play more players. The international team in the Presidents Cup want the format changed because they don't want as many playing. I think for the EurAsia Cup to grow it's right that all 12 players play."
Atwal said, "I'm pretty okay with this format. It's my first time being a captain. I like it right now. So I have no complaints."
Lahiri, the most experienced Asian in such team formats, said, "I'd rather not respond to that. But obviously there are challenges of playing with Asia — are you going to play in the afternoon or are you going to play two sessions. It might not be the easiest thing to do. That's something for the captains and the management to figure out."
On the lighter side, Gavin Green said he wanted to play with Yuta Ikeda because both love Japanese food, while Fleetwood quipped, "He (Casey) was the last guy I wanted to play with, but someone had to play with him, so I did."
Whatever the format, for the present, it is game on Asia's best take on 12 of the strongest from Europe.