NEW DELHI (AP) Anirban Lahiri's tie for fifth at the PGA Championship on Sunday has not only raised hopes of India producing a first major winner, it promises to fuel the aspirations of a whole generation golfers in this cricket-crazed country of over 1.2 billion.
The 28-year-old shot a final-round 68 for a 13-under 275 to produce best ever finish by an Indian at a major, surpassing Jeev Milkha Singh's joint-ninth at the 2008 PGA.
The Indian golf fraternity is anticipating a major boost from Lahiri's performance, building on the efforts of Jeev, Jyoti Randhawa and Arjun Atwal who have helped the game gain recognition in India.
Lahiri's coach, Vijay Divecha, says Lahiri's strong finish at Whistling Straits has long been expected and will undoubtedly be ''big for Indian golf.''
''We knew we were on the threshold,'' Divecha told The Associated Press. ''Being in the mix is the first step and then it's knowing how to convert your chances at such big events.''
Dubai-based Indian golf writer Joy Chakravarty says performing well in high profile tournaments does much to boost golf in India.
''This performance gives immense belief to the juniors and other professionals in the country, many of whom are as talented as Anirban, that they too can achieve something like this,'' Chakravarty told AP. ''It will just heighten the aspiration levels, which is always good for the sport.''
Divecha says he can already see the difference at the grassroots level after Lahiri's consistent efforts on the international circuit.
''It's huge for Indians to see his name out there on the leaderboard. It tells young and aspiring players what they can do,'' he said. ''A lot of players call me up and say they want to talk to Anirban, discuss golf with him.
''His performances have not only instilled confidence in the younger lot, many parents now want their children to take up golf as a profession. This includes players whose parents are not golfers, which did not happen earlier,'' Divecha said.
India has close to 200 golf courses, but most of them are restricted by exclusive memberships that make access difficult for aspiring players.
''Things are changing with some clubs taking on non-members for their training schemes, but opportunities are still limited. The facilities need to be more widespread and accessible to expect golf to become a bigger sport in India,'' Divecha said.
Lahiri has won four times on the Asian Tour, including two events co-sanctioned by the European Tour.
Asian Tour chairman Kyi Hla Han says he's confident Lahiri can emulate South Korea's Yang Yong-eun, the only Asian to win a major.
''I believe Anirban will achieve more success internationally and he has the right credentials to lift a major title in the very near future,'' he said in a statement. ''He has the ability, the right work ethics and self-confidence to achieve this dream.''
Jeev, India's most successful golfer with three European Tour titles, four on the Japan Golf Tour and six on the Asian Tour, also has high hopes for a major win by Lahiri and a boost for golf in the country.
''This performance will also be a massive boost to other Indian players,'' Jeev said. ''What Anirban has done should be the launching pad for many such success stories from our country. I wish Anirban all the best in the future and hope he will soon be hoisting a major trophy on a Sunday evening.''