By Tony Jimenez
LONDON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - A decade spent practising the art of meditation has played a fundamental role in transforming Anirban Lahiri from an also-ran golfer into a world-class performer, the Indian said.
The 27-year-old has surged to 34th in the world rankings after winning two of the last three European Tour events, this month's Malaysian Open and the Indian Open on Sunday.
Both victories were close calls -- Lahiri pipped Austria's Bernd Wiesberger by one shot in Kuala Lumpur and overcame compatriot SSP Chawrasia in a playoff in New Delhi.
He believes the time he spends meditating is invaluable in tight situations.
"I've been doing it for about 10 years and it helps me when things get really tight and the pressure is on," he told Reuters in a telephone interview.
"When you practice meditation it's all about controlling your breath, understanding what your body is feeling under pressure, whether your heart rate is high or low, whether your tight or relaxed or tense, anxious, or just happy.
"When I meditate it's like an exercise in self observation and when you observe yourself it kind of helps you to disassociate from pressure situations."
Lahiri said it came to the fore in the final round of the Indian Open when he needed a moment of magic to save his par at the penultimate hole of regulation.
"When you practice meditation enough it becomes automatic," he explained. "For instance on Sunday I wasn't thinking I needed to chip in at the 17th.
"I'm just not thinking about the result or the outcome or judging myself by it, I'm thinking about what I feel at that moment. I stay in the present and don't look into the future."
Lahiri said he does not meditate solely to improve as a golfer.
"You spend an hour and a half by yourself, introspect, get into a quiet space," he added.
"It's all about understanding what you are trying to do. I don't meditate to become a better golfer, I mediate to become a better person.
"The golf is a by-product. I've never really approached it in terms of trying to get something out of it for my golf and that's what helps me apply it to my golf because I'm not trying too hard to do that."
Lahiri, who needed to go through Qualifying School in November to earn his European Tour card, said he was fired up to succeed after having to miss two big tournaments at the start of the season, the Qatar Masters and the Dubai Desert Classic.
The Indian was sidelined because the short daylight hours in the Middle East mean reduced fields and Q School graduates go to the bottom of the invite list.
"I was sitting at home watching those events on TV and saying 'I should be out there playing and competing with the other guys'," said Lahiri who was speaking to Reuters in an interview organised by his club supplier Srixon (www.srixon.co.uk).
"That was really frustrating for me and I think those two weeks I spent at home watching the world pass me by really fired me up to take my opportunities whenever I get them.
"When I showed up in Malaysia it was with more determination than I've ever had before."
No sooner did Lahiri chalk up his first European Tour win in Kuala Lumpur than he followed up with a second in New Delhi.
The 27-year-old from Pune has his feet firmly planted on the floor, though, and did not overdo his victory celebrations.
"I just went out for dinner with my dad, my wife, my manager and a few friends and had a couple of glasses of beer," said Lahiri.
"It's nice to be able to celebrate something special with the people you love and care about. That's what life is all about."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)