The Fung Conquest
NICHOLAS FUNG SHEDS MISTER RUNNER-UP TAG ENROUTE TO EUROPE AND BEYOND
An animated Q+A with in-form Nicholas Fung.
He could have chosen the well-lit path laid out in collegiate golf in the United States. But somehow fate took Nicholas Fung on a different course.
“After high school I was thinking about studying in the USA but at the same time I went to the Asian Tour Q-School in Hua Hin. I managed to make it into the final stage and decided to turn pro instead,” recalled Fung of his decision to turn pro in 2010. “I was nervous wondering about (financial situation) but thankfully some of my uncles decided to sponsor my expenses in the early part.”
But the golfing gods were clearly on his side as it did not take long for the young Sabahan to make his mark in professional golf.
He won the battle of the young titans in the final match of the Mercedes-Benz Masters Vietnam in 2010. The 20-year-old beat 17-year-old Panuphol Pittayarat of Thailand, 4 & 3, at Song Be Golf Resort.
The win came just seven months after he turned pro on the heels of a stunning rookie season where he made seven successive cuts on the Mercedes-Benz Tour.
It was his second triumph in Vietnam, having won the Vietnam Amateur at age 17 in 2007.
The US$14,000 winner’s purse came in handy as he secured third place on the tour’s Order of Merit and qualified as one of the six sponsor’s invites into the year’s Singapore Open.
“Sometimes it will take a player two to three years before they can win their first pro tournament. I was very happy. I did not feel any nerves as I was a nobody then. I just went out and did my best,” he said.
Fung admitted the going was not easy in those years. “I practised every day. The more shots I hit the more confident I became.”
He did not hesitate about playing anywhere whether it was in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines or at home, each tournament becoming another step up the learning curve.
But soon it became apparent that the Asian Development Tour (ADT) would become a launch pad into his desired territory – the Asian tour.
But it wasn’t just his performances on the developmental tour that was raising eyebrows but the impact he was making in Asian tour events in 2013.
Fung proved to be a pillar of consistency romping home in the UMW Templer Park Masters alongside six top 10 finishes to head the ADT’s Order of Merit with prizemoney totalling US$43,000.
Fung would get his first bite of the cherry coming close to winning his maiden Asian tour title. He scorched the earth in the 39th Indonesian Open, the country’s oldest golf tournament with rounds of 66, 67, 72 and 66 for a 17-under 271 and a share of second place with Thailand’s Chapchai Nirat, three shots behind winner Gaganjeet Bhullar of India.
“I never thought I could finish so well in an Asian Tour tournament. That really gave me a lot of confidence,” said the then 23-year-old.
A tied fifth place in the Resorts World Manila Masters catapulted the Malaysian into the top-60 on the Asian Tour Order of merit, earning him a card for the 2014 season.
Due to this he opened the door for three others including Malaysian Iain Steel to claim the top spots in the ADT and earn entry into the tour as well.
Fung jumped 1,017 places in the world rankings at the beginning of the year into 441st position and by virtue of being the highest ranked Malaysian made his debut in the vaunted PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic.
From 2013-2015 he did not veer out of the top-60 merit list, finishing 36th in 2013
with winnings of US$105,000, 49th the following year with US$79,000 and 35th in 2015 with earnings of US$134,000.
Becoming a Tour regular meant that Fung was setting a new bar for himself – coming closer than ever to his main goal of breaking through in the Asian tour.
By November 2015 another glorious opportunity arose in the World Classic Championship in Singapore.
Leading into the final round Fung found his nemesis in Thai teen Danthai Boonma who caught up with him by the 13th.
The 25-year-old bogeyed the 16th and could only par the remaining holes and for the second time had to play bridesmaid on the tour.
“The 16th hole cost me dearly. I missed a two-foot putt to save par,” groaned Fung. “Then on the 18th, I misjudged my putt.”
It was not all bitter though as the sweetener came in the form of one big payday of US$82,500 (then RM362,700), the biggest in his career then.
His next crack came in July, 2016 at the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship when lying third on the third day with a nine-under 207, four shots behind leader Scott Barr of Australia.
He looked poised for victory until two bogeys on the 15th and 17th derailed his chances at the Linkou International Golf and Country Club in Taipei.
A missed birdie putt on the 18th proved costly, which would have given him a playoff spot. He closed with a two-under 70 to finish joint third with Barr on 11-under 277.
“I missed a short birdie putt on the 14th, which could have made a huge difference,” he said. “That affected my concentration.”
His best chance though would come in November’s Resort World Manila Masters held at the Manila Southwoods Golf and Country Club.
Fung closed with one of his best finishing rounds on the tour holding the
clubhouse lead with American rookie Sam Chien on 19-under.
However India’s S.S.P. Chawrasia, playing later joined the duo, then beat them in the playoff for his first title outside his home country. The Malaysian was the early casualty, bogeying the first extra hole to bow out.
Fung had nothing to be ashamed about as he put up a scintillating performance on the back nine, nailing five successive birdies from the 14th.
“Two of my good friends, Chan Shihchang and Pavit have already progressed from being ADT winners to winners on the Asian Tour. Their victories have really motivated me and it’ll be my time very soon,” said Fung.
Despite falling short three times Fung never lost sight of his goal, believing that he could one day etch his place in the winner’s box.
“My policy is to make the cut. I hit pretty straight, most times on the fairway and out of trouble. Thus when my putts drop I’m hitting a low round. As long as I continue to put myself in contention I believe one day I will make it,” he said.
Those words proved prophetic as in June, 2017 the waiting game ended. In the run-up to his maiden victory on the tour at the Queen’s Cup, though, in Koh Samui, Thailand, his health took a beating.
“I was having a bad flu and fever when I played in the Thailand Open where I missed the cut. On top of that my form in 2017 was below average as I was adjusting my swing to add more yards to my drive,” he revealed.
Despite those hiccups his date with destiny was not to be denied.
Fung, the overnight leader became the fourth Malaysian after Danny Chia, Airil Rizman and Ben Leong to win on the Asian Tour, closing with a four-under 67 to pip Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond by one shot.
Jazz threw down the gauntlet with birdies at 17th and 18th for a five-under 66 setting the clubhouse lead at 14-under 270.
Fung raised his game when it mattered. He chipped in for a birdie from off the green on 16, then produced a masterly wedge shot to two feet for another birdie at 17.
Despite a loose drive Fung grittily hit back reaching the back of the 18th green in four. He made the four-foot putt for par to seal his first win.
“I always wanted to win a big one with my father around. And I did it. He has helped me a lot in my career since I was young. It was also Father’s Day,” recalled Fung.
“He told me – ‘Good boy, you’re finally won. I have been waiting for this a long time.’ You know he walked the course to follow me,” he related.
“Even my girlfriend challenged me saying – ‘You cannot marry me until you win’,” said Fung. “I purposely stayed far from the course, about forty minutes’ drive although the official hotel was ten minutes from the course to have peace and calm,” he revealed.
He took home a handsome check for US$90,000 and the win will open more doors for him. Fung says the two-year exemption on the tour gives him many options where to expand his playing schedule.
“I plan not to miss any of the remaining Asian Tour legs as I aim to make the top ten in the Order of Merit and earn my place in the CIMB Classic,” he said. “I also have been offered Category 18 on the European Tour which allows me to play at least 10 tournaments. I am also planning to play the Q-school in Japan.”
To prepare for his assault on European fairways Fung has been advised by his coach Steven Giuliano to make changes to his swing to add more distance off the tee.
“I have been working on making my backswing flat at the top. This is to enable me to add 10 to 15 yards to my drives. Steven says this is necessary to play in Europe,” said Fung.
Over the last five years Fung has won US$660,387 (RM2,833,060) on the Asian tour. He has also received endorsements, one of which his personal favourite remains Under Armour.
“Years ago I saw this apparel which Hunter Mahan was wearing together with a cap and I liked it. I asked Ben (Leong) who was in US then to buy me one. So happened, MST Golf got the distributorship and they approached me and I was happy to accept. I started wearing it in 2015 and have a contract until 2019,” he confirmed.
Despite the heady achievements and financial success he does not forget the contributions his father, Fung Ping, a retired contractor made to his career.
“I did not play the course (Sabah Golf & Country Club) until after two years of just practising my putting. He said it was the most important part of the game,” recalled Fung.
“When I was 13 I was very eager to play in State Amateur like the Sabah Amateur and other tournaments but he said I wasn’t ready. He put me to the test, to hit my drive uphill 190 yards on the 10th hole but I couldn’t. He told me when I can I will be allowed to play,” remembers Fung.
With the win under his belt Fung is aiming to go where other Malaysians can only dream, the European and Japan tours.
“Hopefully I can have a mixed schedule playing both,” says the man from Kota Kinabalu.
On the personal front he also plans to propose to his girlfriend, Suki Loh somewhere next year at a secret location.
Nicholas Fung, ranked 223 in the world has still many fairways to walk, greens to hole out and trophies to collect in a career far from over.
“I NEVER THOUGHT I COULD FINISH SO WELL IN AN ASIAN TOUR TOURNAMENT. THAT REALLY GAVE ME A LOT OF CONFIDENCE.”