Zaw Moe, the Myanmar golfer who has made Singapore his home for nearly 30 years, turned 53 at the weekend. Simon Wilson caught up with the Asian and Japan Tour veteran to discuss the many highlights of his distinguished career.
When Zaw Moe launched one of his long, trademark drives – just over 290 yards – on Thai Country Club’s 17th hole in the Asian Honda Classic, in February 1997, it brought rapturous applause from the huge gallery assembled there.
It was the kind of moment the young-man from Myanmar lived for, but this was a particularly exceptional occasion: it was the final round, the final pairing and, thrust into the global spotlight, he was playing with a rookie professional who was to shape the game of golf like no other: Tiger Woods.
The American, aged just 21, was playing in Thailand for the first time as a professional and having already claimed three PGA Tour titles, he arrived with much expectation, fanfare and at times uncontrollable excitement.
During an unprecedented week – the likes of which had never before been seen in Asia – Woods dominated from start to finish: he had a six-shot lead at the start of the day and won by 10! It proved to be a warning shot to the world as two months later he claimed the first of his five US Masters titles by 12 strokes!
However, on that penultimate hole at Thai Country Club just outside Bangkok, Woods did make a rare mistake when he pushed his tee shot into water on the right.
“I could see he was angry,” recalls Zaw.
“He told ‘Fluff’ (Mike Cowan) his caddie to give him another ball as he wanted to hit from the tee as opposed to taking a drop. He then drove 30 yards past me. Then, I hit five wood for my second to the green but he hit six iron.
“And on 18 I hit another great tee shot but he hit a two-iron as far as my driver. He was on a different level and I realized I was just a spectator as the round went on.”
With wildly enthusiastic crowds all around him, Zaw did well to record a top-20 finish.
While the result was not what he was looking for, it was another giant moment in the career of Zaw.
The tall golfer with a much-admired, silky-smooth swing is one of his nation’s finest sporting exports who boasts an outstanding record on both the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour Organization – he played on the latter circuit with great success for nearly 10 years starting from 1996.
He has claimed 21 titles in the region including the 1997 Singapore Open at Jurong Country Club and early on in his career, he dominated the local Malaysian circuit claiming three Order of Merit titles.
Moe is part of the “Great Triumvirate” of pioneering golfers from Myanmar, along with Mya Aye and Kyi Hla Han.
Mya Aye was the first to make a mark for Myanmar in the 1970s and won six times in the region.
And Han, the country’s greatest golfer, followed not long after – finding a home for many of the region’s most prestigious trophies and becoming Asian Tour Order of Merit champion in 1999.
All three are also past winners of the Singapore Open: Mya Aye claimed the title in 1981 and Han in 1994.
It is one of the Asian Tour’s most appealing and enduring qualities that, through its diversity, it has facilitated the emergence of elite players from countries that, perhaps, you would least expect.
Myanmar is one such nation that few would expect to contribute to Asia’s golfing landscape, but it most certainly has done and continues to do so.
Zaw turned professional in 1989 and it didn’t take long for him to find his feet in the game, despite facing the daunting prospect of heading on the road as a Touring professional, aged just 22, and with very limited resources.
“When I turned professional and first came out of Myanmar I only had US$700 in my pocket, plus one golf set and a suitcase,” said Zaw, who was born in Lashio – in Myanmar’s Shan State, where his father was the Chief Engineer.
“I was heading to stay with Chan Han (Kyi Hla Han’s brother) in Malaysia but could not get a visa so I had to stay in Bangkok for a month – where I spent US$200, so I was down to US$500.
“When I eventually got to Malaysia – where I planned to play on the domestic Malaysian circuit – I won about MYR1,300 in my first event in the Cameron Highlands. This was in December, 1989. Then, in my second event I finished third so I won about MYR1,700 and in my third event I lost in playoff so I won about MYR3,000. This was the ‘kick start’ to my career.”
With his confidence fortified by success in Malaysia he then chose to try his hand on the Asian Tour – which at that time was run by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation and local Golf Associations.
It was in the days before they had a Qualifying School and formal Tour membership, so players had to enter Monday qualifying rounds.
Said Zaw: “I spent all my money and went back to Malaysia to stay with Chan and make money on the Malaysian circuit again.”
Zaw won dozens of events on the TDC Tour of Malaysia and it wasn’t long before his game was at the level required to compete regularly on the Asian Tour.
Initially, he lived in Penang before his sponsor, Pan-West, kindly helped him set up in Singapore – where he has been living since the early 90s.
And it was there where he soon recorded the biggest victory of his career.
“Since 1995 I had been playing well but I couldn’t win, so when I arrived at the Singapore Open I felt I was due,” said Zaw.
At the start of the final round, he was four in front of an imposing chasing pack that included Thailand’s Boonchu Ruangkit. But he prevailed comfortably finishing the tournament on 11 under, after rounds of 67, 69, 69 and 72, to win by three from American Fran Quinn and earn a cheque for US$80,750.
Many more victories were expected to follow but, remarkably, Moe lost in seven play-offs during his career: three on the Asian Tour and four in Japan.
“If I go and play now, I think I would win more. I was trying to be too perfect back then. I would have won more tournaments if I had just accepted myself. I was looking for the one perfect swing,” said Zaw.
“I was very technical. I was looking for the perfect swing and this was one of the biggest mistakes in my life. Everyone, like Mardan (Mamat), told me, God gave you a good swing, why did you go and change it? At the end of the day you have to rely on your old swing and keep the basics. That’s all you have to do.”
His quest for excellence saw him regularly travel to the United States to see the best coaches in the world, including: Butch Harmon, David Leadbetter, Robert Baker and Phil Ritson.
Zaw acknowledges that his penchant for perfection is more of an attribute these days as much of his time is spent teaching at Singapore Island Country Club.
“It’s actually a good thing now because I can pass all my experience on to my students,” said Zaw, who also coached the Myanmar national team in 2011.
As well as a case of analysis paralysis Moe has also had more than a fair share of injuries.
He slipped a disc playing in the Johnnie Walker Classic in Thailand in 2003, which required an operation.
“After that my game went down in 2005. I stopped moving my body and was just swinging my hands and arms which is no good. And I lost it all,” he said.
And, in 2007, he had a liver infection – relating to a bout of Hepatitis C he got when growing up in Myanmar – which put him out of action for 13 months.
In 2015, he damaged his right wrist severely playing out of the rough at an Asian Tour event in Chiang Mai. He had to rest for six months, and that’s when he got more involved in teaching.
And much more recently, he fell over while jogging in Bishan Park in 2018 and broke his left knee and right wrist. He had just earned his Tour card for the Japan Seniors Tour and was due to fly out.
“When I fell over I also passed out but luckily a passer-by helped me back on to my feet so I was able to get home. I could have played 20 events that year,” he said.
He was also due to play in Japan this year but the coronavirus pandemic put pay to that.
Zaw’s wife Yukiko is Japanese but he has not been able to see her for months as she was in Japan when lockdown took effect.
He has been spending his time getting fit and losing weight in preparation for when he can play tournaments again and he has a busy teaching schedule.
Over the years, one of his students has been Cho Minn Thant – the Asian Tour Commissioner and CEO.
Zaw knows Cho, who grew up in Canberra but is from Myanmar, very well as he has been coaching him since he was 15 years old.
“Actually, he can play. But he didn’t play enough. He had the game but he never went out and tried it. So he didn’t know what his potential was. He hits the ball so long these days,” said Zaw.
Zaw certainly made the leap of faith, never looked back and earned his place as one of the legends of Asian golf.
June 29: Korea’s Seungyul Noh enjoyed his best result so far this season when he closed with a one-under-par 69 to finish in tied-11th place at the Travelers Championship on Sunday.
Noh had missed a consecutive run of cuts in his previous four events on the PGA TOUR. But showed glimpses of his talent that led to him being crowned the youngest Asian Tour Order of Merit champion in 2010 by carding rounds of 64, 68, 66 and 69 to end the week with a four-day total of 13-under-par 267
The 29-year-old was six shots back of American Dustin Johnson, who won the Travelers Championship to end a long drought and extend his career-long season victory streak to 13.
June 28: Korea’s Seungyul Noh, the 2010 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, continued his good run of form by signing for a third round four-under-par 66 to take a share of seventh place at the Travelers Championship on Saturday.
It is a welcome return to form for Noh, who missed the cuts in his last four starts on the PGA TOUR and is now trying to keep his card on a major medical exemption (national service).
The Korean made his comeback to tournament play after fulfilling his military commitments. at the Shinhan Donghae Open last September.
Noh had opened with a 64 and followed that up with rounds of 68 and 66 for a three-day total of 12-under-par 198, to lie six shots back of third round leader Brendon Todd of the United States.
The 29-year-old made history on the Asian Tour in 2010 when he became the youngest player to win the Order of Merit that year.
He is also the third youngest player to win on the Asian Tour after Thailand’s Chinnarat Phadungsil and Korea’s Kim Dae-sub when he won the Midea China Classic in 2008 at 17 years and 143 days.
Sentosa, Singapore June 26: Reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion Jazz Janewattananond will fly the Asian Tour flag when he tees up at the rescheduled U.S. Open, played at Winged Foot Golf Club from September 17-20.
Jazz, who is currently ranked 42nd on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), will be part of the 144-player field which comprises entirely of exempt players due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Open will see Jazz make this debut although the 24-year-old has already made three Major appearances at The Open (2018, 2019) and the PGA Championship last year. The Thai will be relishing his first appearance at the U.S. Open, having missed out on a spot at the sectional qualifiers last year.
Jazz rose to global prominence at the PGA Championship last year with a commendable tied-14th finish he entered the final round in tied-second. It remains the best finish by a Thai in the PGA Championship and second best in a Major behind Thongchai Jaidee’s 13th place finish at The Open in 2009.
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the USGA to conduct the championship without any qualifying and the field is now determined by a number of exemption categories. Among those categories were the top 70 on the OWGR as of March 15 and Jazz was ranked 39th at the time.
The traditional U.S. Open sectional qualifying events were cancelled this season following the upheaval in the global golf calendar due to the global Covid-19 pandemic.
Full list of exemption categories for the 120th U.S. Open can be found here.
Sentosa, Singapore June 19: A big talent, Cameron Smith who was once touted as the future star when he first made his presence felt on the Asian Tour, is now a shining star.
Having the world’s elite players for company on the PGA TOUR where he has since notched two wins and made his maiden President’s Cup appearance last year, the world number 38 is now making big strides. Smith’s path to stardom began with a standout Asian Tour rookie season in 2014, and as they say, the rest is history.
Along with reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion Jazz Janewattanond of Thailand, the 26-year-old Aussie will tee up at this week’s RBC Heritage on the PGA TOUR. But as they continue to scale the higher echelons of the sport in the United States today, the starting point of their golfing journey can be traced back to the coastal town of Hua Hin in Thailand.
As a 20-year-old then, Smith competed and ended his gruelling Asian Tour Qualifying School test by finishing tied-18th to earn his Tour card in 2014. The Australian then decided to seek his fortunes on the Asian Tour early as he had said: “it was ‘good to stay close to home where I’ll be able to see my coach and trainer regularly.”
Smith stumbled initially in his first start at the Solaire Open when he missed the cut after rounds of 75 and 75 but quickly flew under the radar in his next event when he snatched the third round lead at the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters. Although he eventually settled for a share of second place, that superlative performance caught the attention of many and also signalled the rise of the young Australian on the Asian Tour.
His stats in his rookie year on the Asian Tour were indeed staggering and showed he was primed for a host of wonderful things to come. Apart from a tied-61st result at the Queen’s Cup after his exploits in Jakarta, Smith, who took up the sport at three under the influence of his father, never finished outside the top-10 in his next six starts on the Tour.
That included a tied-fifth finish at the lucrative Asian Tour and PGA TOUR sanctioned CIMB Classic in Malaysia which gave the Australian his first big break into the United States that year.
“Playing on the Asian Tour did open up a few doors for me. I ended up having a good year, so it was nice,” said Smith.
He may not have clinched that breakthrough on the Asian Tour, but his results were enough to see him end his rookie season in fifth place on the Order of Merit in 2014 and placed him on the fast track to success. Playing against the region’s best players and even surpassing some of the known veterans on Tour was a timely confidence booster for the Aussie.
Armed with renewed confidence from his exploits on the Asian Tour, Smith continued to hit his stride and took his game to the United States. He showed no signs of nerves when he teed up for his first Major at the U.S. Open in 2015 and made all the right headlines with his tied-fourth finish at Chambers Bay in Washington D.C.
“I had a great experience at the US Open. It was a dream finish for me. Playing on the Asian Tour last year has helped a lot as I was able to get into the moment and just do my own thing out there,” said Smith.
That result also gave him a temporary special membership on the PGA TOUR, secured his place among the game’s elite and catapulted him into the top-100 on the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.
Currently ranked 38th in the world, Smith now plies his trade regularly in the United States where he has also set up his home in Jacksonville, Florida. He has already started his 2020 season in the best possible way by winning his first event at the Sony Open in Hawaii. It is a PGA TOUR title he can finally call his own, having shared the team title with Jonas Blixt at the Zurich Classic in New Orleans in 2017.
For someone who once confessed he could be working at the bar if his professional career in golf did not take off, Smith has come a long way since he first stepped up to the tee as a soft-spoken 20-year-old at the Asian Tour Qualifying School in 2014.
And like many who have made their mark on the Asian Tour before going on to advance their career internationally, nostalgia always fills the air whenever he is back in Asia.
“I love coming over here. I played probably 18 months on the Asian Tour, so I love coming back to where it all began,” said Smith after another noteworthy tied-third finish at The CJ Cup in Korea last year.
Sentosa, June 18: The 18th hole of the Composite Course at the Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling, has been the setting for a wealth of gripping and well-documented drama over the decades.
The impressive piece of golf course architecture as Simon Wilson attests, lends itself perfectly to a compelling finish, thanks to its design and sheer sense of history.
Though not a long par-four, by modern-day standards, it demands the utmost respect, and requires the fullest care and consideration — so much so that it will be featured in a forthcoming article by the Asian Tour’ called: “Asia’s toughest golf holes”.
The hole’s statistics at this year’s Hong Kong Open, tell a familiar story: measuring 410 yards, it was ranked the second hardest with an average score of 4.281; there were just 40 birdies, 215 pars, 101 bogeys, 19 double-bogeys and 2 “others”.
Australian Wade Ormsby’s dominant wire-to-wire four-shot victory in the event saw him able to negotiate the last hole without the heavy burden of a narrow lead.
But that is not very often the case for a hole deeply ingrained in the rich history of Asian golf, and viewed as one of the great amphitheatres of tournament golf globally.
Since the Asian Tour was launched in 2004, Fanling’s closing hole has witnessed the full gamut of emotions and eventualities.
And one of the game’s great personalities, Miguel Angel Jimenez, has been one of the main actors in the pure theatre that has unfolded there.
The Spaniard has tasted victory a record equalling four times: in 2004, 2007, 2012 and 2013.
His most recent win was arguably his most spectacular when on an exhilarating final day he holed an 18-foot birdie putt on the first extra hole to defeat Welshman Stuart Manley and Prom Meesawat from Thailand.
He said: “I love this place, I love this golf course, I love the tournament.”
When he triumphed in 2007 it was in very different circumstances; equally as exciting bur error-strewn and excruciating to watch.
He emerged victorious for the second time but only after a truly remarkable battle against Swede Robert Karlsson.
Tied for the lead playing the last, Jimenez was the early favourite after finding the back of the green in two while Karlsson’s approach failed to find the green and fell back into a grassy knoll in front of the putting surface.
To the dismay of the large crowd assembled, the Swede fluffed his chip shot and failed to make the green, before chipping his next shot to five feet.
Jimenez, facing a tough downhill putt and perhaps sensing victory too early, left his putt six feet short and then, to more groans from the crowd, promptly proceeded to knock his par effort past the cup.
It left Karlsson with an opportunity to make a bogey five and force a play-off but more agony was to follow when he missed again to complete his calamitous finish. Jiménez knocked in his bogey putt from one-and-a-half feet to seal the victory and bring to a conclusion one of the more perplexing finales to the championship.
“I like everything about this place,” said the Spaniard. “I like the golf course, it is an old fashioned course which provides a great test and I also like the heat, like Malaga. I am like a fish in water when it’s hot, it is where I am meant to be. I also like the people here, I feel very comfortable.”
Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy is another of the game’s greats who has played a significant role in the history of Fanling’s final hole.
In 2008, he was on the receiving end of what can only be described as a golfing epiphany by Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang.
In arguably one of the event’s greatest-ever finishes he defeated McIlroy and Italian Francesco Molinari in a sudden-death play-off.
Lin had missed a chance to win the tournament in normal time when his six-foot birdie putt on the 72nd green slipped past the edge of the hole.
Molinari was eliminated at the first extra hole when he could only manage a par compared to birdies from the other two players. Lin’s birdie was the result of one of the finest shots seen on 18 in the Hong Kong Open: after hooking his tee shot he then played his approach out of trees, over water and a bunker. His shot not only found the green but finished just feet from the pin.
On the second extra hole, McIlroy also went left from the tee and had to display his powers of recovery to find the green. But Lin then piled on the pressure from the middle of the fairway, firing his approach in to just a foot. When McIlroy’s birdie effort missed, the tournament was Lin’s.
“Now I can re-assure myself that what I am doing is right,” said an ecstatic Lin.
“To hit two threes in a play-off, you can’t beat that,” added McIlroy.
McIlroy also finished runner-up the following year, behind Frenchman Gregory Bourdy, and was sixth in 2010 before finally securing the title in 2011 in remarkable fashion.
McIlroy, who at the time was the reigning US Open champion, holed out from a greenside bunker at the last to finish two clear of France’s Gregory Havret,
“I’ve wanted to win this tournament so badly since that play-off in 2008,” said McIlroy.
“I’ve had to wait a couple of years to get there, but to get this trophy in my hands is very special. I just hit a perfect bunker shot, and once it landed on the green, it never looked anywhere else and I think you could see how much that meant to me,” added McIlroy,
Over the last few seasons three Australians have also produced heroics on the final hole.
In 2014, Scott Hend and Filipino Angelo Que fought a thrilling back-nine battle which culminated in the Australian winning in extra time.
Two years later, Sam Brazel birdied the last to beat Rafa Cabrera Bello from Spain before Ormsby started his love affair with the tournament by winning in 2017.
Ormsby had a two-shot lead playing 18 but three-putted which opened the door for Cabrera Bello, playing the group behind, to force a playoff. However, the Spaniard finished second for the successive year when he made bogey after finding a green side bunker.
Perhaps, the greatest ever finish at Hong Kong’s national Open came in 1994 when little-known American Craig McClellan holed his second shot for an eagle two to force a play-off with South African star David Frost.
Frost overcame the American on the first hole of sudden-death but the reverberations of McClellan’s wonder shot lasted long after the winning putt was holed.
Just which is the best finish at the popular tournament is open for discussion but it will be complicated by the many more dramatic finishes in the future that help define the Hong Kong Open.
Sentosa, June 17: There is something quite ambassadorial about India’s golf star Anirban Lahiri writes Simon Wilson.
Thoughtful, calm and articulate he has been a fine representative for his country while playing on the PGA Tour over the past five years.
It is therefore a significant blow to all and sundry that Lahiri has been, as he says, “marooned” at home in India because of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown and unable to make it back for the re-start of the PGA Tour.
Lahiri played in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in early March and headed back to India to work on his game with long-time coach Vijay Divecha in Ahmedabad before playing in the Hero Indian Open — an event he proudly won in 2015 and put him on course to claiming the Asian Tour Order of Merit title.
But as they say, even the best laid plans sometimes go awry: three days after he arrived, quarantine was introduced for international travellers, before the nation went into lockdown and his national Open was postponed.
“We still don’t have a D-Day for when they will resume international flights,” said Lahiri — who, sadly for Asian viewers, will be missing from the field at this week’s RBC Heritage on the PGA Tour.
The young man, nicknamed “Baan”, was stuck in Ahmedabad for a period, before being able to get to his house in Bangalore with his family.
His golf clubs arrived late because of logistical issues across India but he has finally been able to brandish them over recent weeks at The Eagleton Golf Resort in Bangalore — which was his home club before he moved to the United States.
“I went two months, (actually) about 75 days, before I hit a ball, and that’s probably the longest since I was in 10th grade. It was about the longest break I have ever taken,” said Lahiri, “There were times when you want to tear your hair out as you are used to being on the go all the time.”
Like many across the globe the Indian has used the “time off” to rest and recalibrate and he says: “Spending time with my 16-month-old daughter, has been very precious to me”.
He adds: “It has been quite frustrating but it has also been an opportunity for me to hit the pause button, spend some quality time with my family and friends, do some introspection, work on the mental side and work on the physical side, as much as possible.
“Given the situation there are limitations to what you can do but you try and do the most you can, within the confines of your house. But now that I can play golf again it feels great. I didn’t think that just playing golf can feel this great.”
Lahiri is at the helm of the latest generation of Indian golfers breaking boundaries and inspiring a nation. When he was growing up his idols were Jeev Milkha Singh, who he feels was the “global torch bearer” due to his success all over the world, and Arjun Atwal, whom he calls “the PGA Tour stalwart” — as he remains the only Indian to win on the PGA Tour, thanks to his success in the 2010 Wyndham Championship.
Lahiri triumphed seven-times on the Asian Tour before departing to play on the PGA Tour — where he impressed all by making the FedExCup Playoffs in 2016, 2017 and 2018.
In 2015, he became the first Indian to be selected to play for the International Team in the Presidents Cup and that year he finished tied fifth at the PGA Championship — the best result by an Indian golfer in a Major.
In 2016, he also represented India when golf returned to the Olympics after a hiatus of 112-years and the following year he was again selected for the Presidents Cup. The list of accolades and achievements for a player who turns 33 on June 29 is extremely impressive.
But as all golfers know though form is only temporary, and Lahiri is currently experiencing a dip in fortunes.
He failed to make the FedExCup Playoffs last year for the first time but was able to regain his playing status thanks to finishing strongly at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals. This season, before Covid-19 struck with such devastating effect, he was also facing a similar battle with his form; he was ranked 209th having played 12 events.
“The last 18 months leading up to Covid, have been very, very poor. I have played nowhere near my own expectations, it’s definitely been something I want to work on and fix. That was why I came here to spend some extended time with my coach,” said the Indian.
“We set up a programme to tackle all the issues that we felt were causing my level to drop, and we started working on these things but then lockdown happened. There is a lot of unfinished business and some work to be done for me, I am going to try and make the most of the situation. I need to try and get back to my best golf which has been missing for the past 18 months of so.”
Lahiri feels his iron play has been his “Achilles heel” of late — which, ironically, was for so long one of the hallmarks of his game. With that component of his game not firing as well as it normally does he is not making enough birdies, something that is very costly on the world’s elite circuit.
He says: “I’m caught in the situation now where in a way it’s not terrible that I can’t get back because I have work to do.”
Few doubt that he will recapture the magic that has seen him achieve so much success in the game.
After a brilliant amateur career — he played for his country in the Asian Games (he and Gaganjeet Bhullar were part of the team that claimed silver in Doha in 2006) Eisenhower Trophy, and Nomura Cup — he turned professional in 2007 and it wasn’t long before he triumphed on India’s burgeoning professional tour, winning twice in 2009.
In 2011, he claimed his maiden victory on the Asian Tour at the Panasonic Open on home soil, marking the start of an assault on some of the biggest titles in the region.
Third on the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2013, second in 2014, he topped the chart the following year thanks to two career-defining victories in February, first the Malaysian Open and then the Indian Open — both events jointly sanctioned with the European Tour.
“Oh, I miss the Asian Tour, I have a lot of friends there. There is no other Tour like the Asian Tour in terms of the camaraderie and the friendships you make, and the experiences you have. It is unique, people in Asia are unique and it’s just a pleasure to enjoy your time on the Tour,” said Lahiri.
“It’s a great stepping stone, you compete against some really good players, play in different conditions, you learn a lot of new things, you experience so many different cultures, different ways of life, it teaches you a lot of things, outside of golf as well. In Europe and the US you play in a similar environment. I really, really enjoyed my time on the Asian Tour.
“It really helped me to become who I am and I made some very deep and lasting friendships. I still look forward to coming back and playing every opportunity I can.”
For the moment Lahiri is focused on returning to form on the PGA Tour; something which will allow him to achieve his goals of re-establishing his position on the Official World Golf Ranking, playing in all four Majors and helping to further promote the game in India — something that is very important to him.
He has certainly been making the most of this unexpected period of downtime: on Instagram you can find “Cooking with the Lahiris” videos.
“It was just an idea that some of my friends came up with to kill time during lockdown. You have seen guys giving tips, hosting talk shows and a lot of us have been cooking,” explains Lahiri, who has been a vegetarian for two years.
When it comes to cooking, he says he is a “10 handicapper while my wife is a professional”.
With his skills now sharpened in the kitchen, he will also be looking to serve-up some Lahiri signature specials when he returns to the Tour.
June 16: Asian Tour caddies will stand to benefit from a fundraising initiative set up by their counterparts from the European Tour in the face of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
European Tour caddies are helping others affected by the coronavirus outbreak with a fundraising prize draw for golf memorabilia to help their ‘caddie comrades’ on the Asian Tour and Sunshine Tour.
Organised by Brendan Mccartain, Gareth Lord, Billy Foster, Brian Nilsson, Jamie Lane and Zack Rasego, the latest efforts from the European Tour Caddies Association (ETCA) are aimed at assisting their colleagues and counterparts on the Asian Tour, represented by the Professional Tour Caddies Association (PTCA) and the Sunshine Tour, represented by the South African Caddies Association (SACA).
The fundraising campaign comprises of a Draw consisting of pieces of golfing memorabilia and equipment – donated by ETCA members, players and manufacturers – with a target of raising £28,000 to support the caddies who belong to those associations.
The idea was started by Mccartain, who was inspired to get a team of caddies together from the ETCA following an unexpected donation from the European Tour and the success of two similar initiatives set up by Foster and Ian ‘Fino’ Finnis in April.
“We got help when we didn’t expect it, and it started really because of what had been done for us,” said Mccartain, who caddies for Malaysia’s Gavin Green, 2017 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion.
Another great initiative to help caddies on the Asian tour and Sunshine Tour. Buy tickets and get a chance to win some amazing prizes!https://t.co/vJQuyINgwW
— Francesco Molinari (@F_Molinari) June 8, 2020
“The European Tour kindly made a donation to the ETCA and none of the caddies had expected anything, so the fact that they did that was really cool. Then on top of that Ian Finnis, who caddies for Tommy Fleetwood, did a similar thing to what we’re doing, which was completely uninitiated by anybody. I thought, that’s got to be one of the most selfless acts I’ve ever seen by somebody.
“I’ve been a caddie nearly 30 years, and Fino’s not been out here a long time, so when I saw he did, I was completely blown away. He ended up raising £125,000, which was split among all of the European Tour Caddie Association members. It was an incredible thing.
“That’s what started it, and then seeing the situation that we’re in and realising that there are a lot of people who are in very different situations around the world, including our caddie comrades in Asia and South Africa. It could be a lot longer for the majority of them before they get back to work again.
“I thought, somebody needs to do something. We’ve all been going over to both Asia and South Africa for a long time and the European Tour is intrinsically involved with both Tours at different events every year, so there’s quite a strong relationship between us all. A couple of us spoke – especially Brian Nilsson, who caddies for Nicolas Colsaerts – and said why don’t we try some prizes together, get caddies to donate and try and raise some money for both the SACA and the PTCA, and the response from the ETCA was brilliant.
“It’s been a team effort. I set it up as a go fund me team with Brian, along with Jamie Lane, who works with Bernd Wiesberger, Billy Foster, who is with Matthew Fitzpatrick, Zach Rosego, who caddies for Christiaan Bezuidenhout, and Gareth Lord, who caddies for Justin Rose. All of them were more than happy to help, and all of them have been important.
“There are thousands of good and worthy causes, but we are in a position to help them, and we want to show them that we’re thinking of them in these difficult times. It may not be a huge amount of money, but hopefully we can raise enough to give them something.”
At present the Draw currently includes 39 prizes, with a cost of £5 per raffle ticket. Memorabilia includes signed flags from Justin Rose and Jordan Spieth, in addition to putters, drivers, and Ryder Cup clothing.
All proceeds raised by the ETCA will be distributed equally between the PTCA and SACA, and winners will be announced on June 25.
Sentosa, Singapore June 12: The sights and sounds of Malaysia have become all too familiar for Yuta Ikeda now. The Japanese has unintentionally made himself right at home in Malaysia for the last three months.
An early arrival into the capital city of Kuala Lumpur to prepare himself for the Bandar Malaysia Open and acclimatise to the tropical weather, has turned out to be an extended affair after several unexpected turns of events.
With an impressive tally of 21 victories on the Japan Golf Tour, where he has won at least one title every year since 2009, Ikeda was then setting his sights on winning the Bandar Malaysia Open in March.
While two of his victories in Japan have come at Asian Tour co-sanctioned tournaments, it was a victory abroad that has been elusive and he was determined to add that accolade to his distinguished record.
Unfortunately, Ikeda’s title ambition went awry when he was struck with dengue fever just days before he was due to compete at the Kota Permai Golf and Country Club.
“I came to Malaysia 10 days before the start of the Bandar Malaysia Open. Japan was still very cold at that time, so I decided to come early get used to the warm tropical weather. But about a day before the tournament was supposed to start, I broke out in cold sweat and felt feverish. I was vomiting and I could hardly walk. I went to see a doctor quickly and was told I had dengue fever!” recalled the 34-year-old.
Ikeda had to spend two days in the local hospital where he was put on an intravenous drip and asked to rest. And the only action Ikeda saw that week was on TV.
“I caught up with the highlights of the tournament while recuperating and really wished I could be part of the action. It was a very good tournament and the play-off with Trevor Simsby winning was very exciting,” said Ikeda.
Just as he was preparing to return home, the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard with borders closed, travel restrictions implemented and air travel coming to a grinding to a halt. With his homecoming plans in disarray, Ikeda was fortunate to be offered a place to stay by a close friend during the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia.
He has spent his days catching up with the latest developments back home but golf was also never far from his mind.
“I read the news everyday just to know what’s happening around the world. I’m always a positive person and I know that while things might be difficult now, it will always work out in the end.”
Ikeda, who has made a full recovery, finally got the chance to return to the golf course again when Malaysia eased some of its MCO with golf courses reopening.
“I went to the practice driving range immediately and it felt so good as I didn’t hold a club for a month since I came down with dengue fever. This period is also the longest layoff since I started playing golf, but I guess it’s also the same for all other professionals.
“While we can continue to keep ourselves physically and mentally prepared when the season resumes, we also have to be mindful of how the future of professional golf tournament environment will change because of the coronavirus,” said Ikeda.
Japan’s famed cherry blossom season was in full bloom last month and the ‘hanami’ which is often a huge part of Japanese social calendar was copiously missing for Ikeda. He may not be able to marvel at the cherry blossoms back home this year, but he has found solace in a place that he now calls Malaysia his home away from home.
Like his fellow Tour members, Ikeda longs to compete again and awaits the restart of the Japan and Asian Tours. Even though Ikeda’s unanticipated stay in Malaysia has been longer than expected, his cheery disposition and his warrior spirit remains very much intact.
Ikeda said with a laugh: “I always love coming to Malaysia and this trip has been very unforgettable so far. With so much uncertainty now, Malaysian Government has been generous in allowing me to extend my stay in Malaysia longer by extending my travel visa, I feel at home here. I’ll be staying here a little longer so that I can continue to play golf and enjoy their hospitality and the good food like their roti canai and mee mamak!”
It is hard to believe it has been 15 years since Singapore’s iconic National Open was first played on the hallowed turf of The Serapong at Sentosa Golf Club.
In that time, Sentosa Golf Club’s standing in the game globally has grown exponentially —buoyed by hosting other world-class events and being the recipient of countless awards.
This year, the majestic layout was due to undergo renovation work — allowing it to maintain its undoubted lead over its competitors.
But just as work started, everything came to a grinding halt in April when the nation was thrust into lockdown because of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
This, however, failed to affect the enthusiasm and energy of Andy Johnston — the General Manager and Director of Agronomy at Sentosa Golf Club — and the mastermind behind the successful growth and development of The Serapong and the venue’s second layout, The New Tanjong.
If anything, the pause in proceedings has steeled Johnston’s determination to make Serapong even greater.
“It’s going to be spectacular!” says Johnston, about plans for The Serapong when work restarts.
“As we know, this year has seen unprecedented circumstances that none of us could have predicted. We’re in the midst of a global pandemic where there are much bigger issues at play, and the health and safety of the world’s population is the number one priority.
“This has been our attitude when it has come to the renovations – if there’s a slight delay, so be it, however we must, and have, take the safety of our workforce, members, guests and the population of Singapore very seriously. Every industry and sector across the world has taken a hit with this situation and golf is no different.”
The upgrade of The Serapong was due to be a “three-month tactically planned operation”, which although delayed for the moment will quickly resume once the green light is given.
The operation, advanced and technical in true Sentosa fashion, is one that will further cement the course’s position in Golf Digest’s ‘Top 100 Greatest Golf Courses’ rankings — which moved up 20 places last year to reach 59th. The Serapong and The New Tanjong are also ranked first and second respectively on Golf Digest’s ‘Best Golf Courses in Singapore’ rankings.
The greens, famous for their speed and expanse, will undergo deep soil modifications with a drill and fill programme; this means the historic playing surfaces will not be disturbed.
This programme will see them drill large one-inch holes in the greens, 12 inches deep — a dynamic process to update the soil profile. Two special drill and fill machines were purchased from America last year and shipped over for the assignment.
Says Johnston: “This process will allow us to update and re-engineer the soil profile without removing the grass. The benefit will be a stronger, healthier surface that should be able to handle higher degrees of stress. And we all know what that means: harder, faster surfaces.”
In addition, all the grass on the fairways, and the bunker and green surrounds will be removed and replaced with new, clean Zoysia. Platinum Paspalum will be used for the new tees.
The areas will also be regraded, which includes the tees being re-lasered flat and widened back out into their original size, pointing down the fairway.
In addition, all bunker faces and shapes will be regraded and the bunkers will be replaced with new sand.
Johnston’s mission will be helped by the fact that he was in charge the last time the layout was remodelled in 2006. The course, designed by Ronald Fream and opened in 1982, underwent a S$12 million revamp, and reopened in time for Australian superstar Adam Scott to win the second of his three Singapore Open titles.
At the time Johnston was part of the Bates Golf Design team — who had been engaged to handle the project — but the American returned to the club on a full-time basis in 2010 as Director of Agronomy before becoming General Manager in 2013.
In 2019, the club enjoyed a celebrated year in terms of awards and when the latest remodeling is completed, there is no doubt more honours await.
The club was chosen as the ‘World’s Best Golf Club’ at The World Golf Awards at a special ceremony in Dubai; voted by the players on the Asian Tour as the ‘Best Golf Course on Tour’; gained a position in Platinum Clubs’ ‘World Top 100’; won the Golf Inc. ‘Environmental Stewardship Award of the Year’; and also achieved further success at The Asian Golf Awards winning the ‘Best Managed’, ‘Best Maintained’, ‘Best Food and Beverage’ and ‘Best Championship Course in Asia’ titles to claim their Grand Slam of awards.
The Asian Tour players also voted the SMBC Singapore Open the ‘Best Event on Tour’ for the second time in its history, following 2017.
The Awards — and the fact the club is home to the Asian Tour and the R&A, in Asia, headquarters — makes Johnston and his team feel “incredibly privileged”.
Says Johnston: “We are very proud of the team and our accomplishments, particularly in the last 12 months. When reviewing all of the awards and accolades that have come in during that time, there are many we can be very proud about.”
Perhaps one of the greatest accolades came earlier this year when American Matt Kuchar won the SMBC Singapore Open in January. The world’s leading players regularly praise the golf club and its facilities but “Kuch” was positively ecstatic about The Serapong saying the greens were some of “the best I have played on”.
“Not only were we proud to crown Matt Singapore Open Champion, but his vote of confidence was reassuring to us as we feel we belong amongst the world’s best and we are very proud to host the prestigious Asian Tour event. That host venue status is an honour in its own right,” added Johnston.
Of course work will proceed with pace on all areas at the club once conditions permit and Johnston is quick to point out that their sustainability and #Keepitgreen campaign are a priority.
They are investing in biodigesters for both food and horticultural waste. The biodigesters will help convert the waste to plant food, which will then be spread back out onto the golf courses as fertiliser. And they also have ambitious plans to install a floating solar farm in the lagoon, implement electric car charging stations and they are currently working to join Group on Earth Observations (GEO) and become certified.
Says Johnston: “So, there’s lots more to come and plenty to be excited about when it comes to our green agenda. The sky is the limit really!”
He feels “that while it has been a real honour to have captured all of the accolades, in some ways it has become bigger than just Sentosa Golf Club or the golf course, as we are now representing the world of golf and our wonderful city.”
And while the world awaits to resume in the “new normal”, the American is prepared and looking forward to the challenges ahead.
“My role as General Manager and Director of Agronomy has not changed,” he says.
“The tremendous responsibility to take care of a property like this, and now even challenged more than ever with a reduced team, to use my time-earned intuitive skill to help stay ahead of what Mother Nature might send our way is a mission that is always never ending, and one I relish each and every day, when I am able to go to work every day to review and check on the grass and property. We just hope this all ends safely.”
Tokyo, June 10: Sagamihara Golf Club will return to the spotlight when it plays host to the 2021 Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship Diamond Cup Golf.
The decision to stage the historic Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC)-supported event at the Kanagawa Prefecture club’s storied East Course was ratified at a Board meeting of the Japan Golf Association (JGA).
“We’re delighted to confirm that Sagamihara Golf Club’s East Course has been secured and approved as the venue for next year’s Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship Diamond Cup Golf,” said Andy Yamanaka, the JGA’s Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer.
To take place from May 13-16, 2021, the event is co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO). The seventh edition had been due to take place last month but was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One of the JGA’s four National Championships, alongside the Japan Open, Japan Women’s Open and Japan Senior Open, the Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship Diamond Cup Golf was recognised by The R&A last year with the enticement of an invitation to the champion to compete in The Open.
Among its other unique facets, the Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship Diamond Cup Golf gives a start to the winner of the previous year’s APGC Junior Championship Mitsubishi Corporation Cup while a number of exemptions are allocated to the APGC for them to invite leading amateurs from the region to participate.
Under guidance from the JGA, it was in 2014 that the Diamond Cup Golf and Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship merged into the Asia-Pacific Open Golf Championship Diamond Cup Golf, in partnership with the Mitsubishi Corporation and Osaka-based Kansai Television Co Ltd.
Taimur Hassan Amin, the APGC’s Chairman, said: “We look forward to the Diamond Cup returning to the schedule stronger than ever in 2021. Our thanks go to the Japan Golf Association for its continued support in providing such wonderful opportunities for our players to gain top-level experience in the early portion of their golfing journeys.”
A one-hour drive from downtown Tokyo, Sagamihara Golf Club has hosted the Japan Open Golf Championship on three occasions with Toru Taniguchi emerging triumphant the last time it was held there in 2007. It was also the venue for the Japan Women’s Open Golf Championship in 2013, won by Mika Miyazato.
Designed by Yuji Kodera, the East Course was opened in 1955. The course was remodelled by Yoshikazu Murakami in 1963, allowing for two greens on each hole, ensuring the layout is playable year-round.