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!”