Even with equipment advancements, are our golfers playing better?
Whenever I have to advise young lawyers, I tell them that they have a lot of advantages which in my time, we never had. So much more education, information, help from law firms and supporting parents, if not spoiling parents.
On the other hand, there is so much more competition these days and the future will be affected by advances in technology. Nevertheless, the qualities required for success remain the same, hard work, intelligence, knowledge in many subjects, great understanding of people and talent.
So it is the same for golfers. Young golfers now have much more help, coaching, tournaments and supportive parents and much more competition compared to 50 years ago.
So many golf courses to play on and starting at a young age with proper instruction. But are they better golfers and producing better results?
Certainly they need to practice much harder as there are many more competitors here and in other countries.
When I first started playing golf at The Royal Selangor Golf Club (The Selangor Golf Club) in the late 60’s, the game was played by adults who had only lately taken up the game. We had only one Australian pro, Len Boorer who ran the pro shop and gave lessons.
The best players were the foreigners and some of them were very good players playing to scratch. There were no young golfers at the club.
With Independence, The Malaysian Golf Association under their first Malaysian President, H.S. Lee (later Tun Sir Henry H.S. Lee) quickly formed a national team, which consisted of Malaysians. These were true amateurs, club golfers who had taken up the game as adults, played recreational golf, low handicappers who worked for a living and only played golf after work.
Their scores were in the high 70’s and occasionally in the low 70’s. Even so, our team of such players consisting of George Lee, Pat Lim, Choong Ewe Seong and Too Joon Loke managed to win the Putra Cup in 1962, when it was held at the Royal Selangor Golf Club.
However, in a short space of time, young players emerged from the caddy ranks of Perak Golf Club (also called Tiger Lane and now Royal Perak). Amazingly, these caddies had picked up the game naturally without the benefit of any professional coaching and became really good players who hit their drives much longer than club members by using second hand clubs.
There was no TV then, nor professional golfers. I recall the early players like Darwis Deran and Suleiman Bluah. And a few years later, Darwis’ younger brother, Jalal and Suleiman’s younger brother Barie.
Other young players were Zainal Abidin Yusof and a player from Penang called Ayaroo. All of them came from humble backgrounds and learnt their games themselves.
But they were very good self-taught players that soon came to dominate all the tournaments and represented the country. As a new golfer, I watched them and admired each one of them.
I remember Suleiman and Zainal could hit really long drives. Suleiman was very strong and could hit his sand wedge 150 yards.
Remember this was in late 60’s when the clubs and balls were not as good. I remember Mr. Machado who captained the national team to the Eisenhower Cup in Rome in 1964, telling me how Bill Campbell, the long hitting American and world leading amateur was surprised that an unknown Malaysian player playing with him called Suleiman could out drive him.
Campbell was known to hit more than 300 yards and in a long driving contest once outdrove Sam Snead, although Snead was much older at the time.
Tiger Lane in Ipoh was one of my favourite courses, with some very interesting and challenging natural holes. There were ravines, large trees and the last hole had an out of bounds on the right, which decided many a match.
I remember Graham Marsh driving out bounds there at the Malaysian Open. It’s amazing how many good golfers came from the caddies of this golf course.
Some of these caddies also worked as syces in the neighbouring Perak Turf Club and race course. Perhaps by training the race horses, they developed very strong wrists.
Darwis was the first Malaysian to win the Malaysian Amateur Open Championship. He won in 1963 and 1965. Sulaiman Bluah was runner up in 1964. Zainal Abidin Yusof won in 1967, and Jalal Deran won in 1968 and 1969. I thought Jalal was a fantastic golfer. His swing was effortless, so good was his timing. Unfortunately, he gave up competitive golf at an early age.
Tiger Lane continued to produce the best players in the country. Badminton champion Tan Yee Khan took up golf and soon played for the country. He won the Malaysian Amateur Open Championship in 1974.
Yee Khan had his own home grown swing, but he was very strong and hit the ball a mile. He scored more birdies and eagles as anyone else. If he had been able to not to lose shots golfdigestmalaysia
on other holes, he would have been a world beater.
He was followed by Nazamuddin Yusof who won in 1975 and by Eshak Bluah who was in 1976 and 1977 all from Ipoh. Surprisingly another tremendous player Sahabuddin Yusof (brother of Nazamuddin) never won, although he was the leading amateur at the Malaysian Open in 1979 with a record score of 283 at Royal Selangor Golf Club.
All of the four players were praised by the great player and coach, Norman Von Nida, after coaching them. Von Nida likened the swing of Nazamuddin to that of Gary Player, the swing of Sahabuddin to Ian Woosnam and Eshak’s to Tom Watson. I too thought Eshak had a fantastic swing, athletic and very natural.
Other than these golfers from Ipoh, there was Bobby Lim, a son of the caterer at Royal Selangor Golf Club, who grew up watching the pros when he was young. He was another very good golfer with a very good swing.
The only national player who came from a different background during this time was K.C. Choo. He studied at school and university in England and on his return to Malaysia, quickly played himself into the national team.
Further in time amongst the National players who came from the caddy ranks or humble backgrounds, and who were self-taught I remember Saad Yusof, Bathumalai, Ravichanthiran, Gunasegaran, Nachimuthu, Segaran, Suffian Tan and Shaaban Hussin. Suffian Tan was a really good player who was good enough to beat the pros as he did in at least one pro event.
It’s amazing how some of the players learnt to play so well without learning through the coaching programmes like today. Wong Hong Nung was a renowned footballer, who switched to golf after his football career and within a few years became a national player.
Another was Valen Tan. John Eu was from a different background growing up playing golf at Royal Selangor Golf Club, where he benefitted greatly from coaching from Von Nida. John played for the country for several years.
Sadly, there were no professional tours or money to be played in the early years. And the Rules of Amateur Status then were strict on expenses.
So the early players never had a chance to further their careers as professionals and they could not afford playing as amateurs. Two very good players in those years were M. Ramayah and V. Nellan. They never played amateur golf and played as professionals in the few tournaments which existed. Nellan became a very good coach. Again, they learnt their golf themselves.
Nellan learnt from watching many good foreign professionals.
Nowadays, I am not aware of any amateur players rising from the caddy ranks and all of the top amateurs have the backing of their parents and the benefit of constant couching. They also have the benefit of using better equipment and better prospects of earning a living as professional golfers. With all these advantages they should be better than the early players. But we have not had much success in competitions against international teams.
The recent SEA Games is an example with our failure to win a medal on home territory.
Going by the record of The Putra Cup, played amongst South East Asian countries, Malaysia won in 1962, 1966, 1974, 1976, 1979, 1984, 2001 and 2005.
Darwis was individual winner in 1966, Bobby Lim in 1969, Sahabuddin in 1979 and Suffian Tan in 1984. And in the Nomura Cup, a bigger event amongst Asia Pacific countries, we did best in 1977, when we finished third. It is significant that since 2005, Malaysia has not won any international events.
It could be we have improved (as we should have) but the players from other countries have improved even more? Certainly, Thailand is producing more top players and even Singapore has overtaken us as shown by their winning at the recent SEA Games.
I believe it is difficult to draw comparisons in golf of players from different periods in time. But I believe the players in the early days had just as good swings and scored just as well.
And it is true, compared to the international competition, they were definitely better. In the Nomura Cup competition in 1977 our team of Tan Yee Khan, Eshak, Barie and Sahabuddin came third to the winners, Chinese Taipei, whose team consisted of Lu Hsi Chuen, Chen Tse Ming, Chen Tse Chung and Tsao ChienTeng, all of whom became top professionals.
Lu Hsi Chuen was Asian circuit winner three times. Chen Tse Chung almost won the U.S. Open, while Chen Tse Ming won a professional event here with a score of 23-under-par.
At the time in 1977, both Norman Von Nida and I were not alone to think that there was very little difference in skill between our players and those of Chinese Taipei. If there had been more money those days in professional golf locally, these players could have worked harder to become top professionals.
Instead they never had the ambitions, nor sponsors to drive them to greater heights. The same thing happened with our national players who played against the likes of Thongchai Jaidee and Boonchu Ruangkit. They were very comparable as amateurs, but while the Thais became top professionals, our players never progressed further.
Front row from left to right: Patrick Lim, Too Joon Loke, Tun H.S. Lee, Choong Ewe Seong, George Y.L. Lee.