Tommy’s Di­ary

Even with equip­ment ad­vance­ments, are our golfers play­ing bet­ter?

Golf Digest (Malaysia) - - Contents - BY THOMAS LEE

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.

novem­ber 2017

Front row from left to right: Pa­trick Lim, Too Joon Loke, Tun H.S. Lee, Choong Ewe Seong, Ge­orge Y.L. Lee.

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