Beauty & GOLF
The story of a man, driven by a passion for golf, who looks to impart that love to a new breed of golfers.
36 Introducing Chong Chee Ming, the man behind the beauties.
It was a coffee shop at Sri Hartamas on a warm Malaysian morning. The horns were blaring , traffic wasn’t particularly bad but the sounds that herald impatient drivers on any given day in this city of seven million is a droning reminder that things never actually stand still here.
“One teh tarik, kasih,” I barked an order that had been a favourite for many mornings, this one included. We had arranged to meet Chong Chee Ming , the honorary secretary of the Professional Golf Association of Malaysia (PGM), adidas-golf ambassador and also coach to our first cohort of successful women in our “Beauty & Golf ” series.
The initiative to introduce the game of golf to women who had been successful in life and work that further defined the adage of ‘beauty and brains’ had seen childhood friends Valerie Chan and Amelia Liew take on perhaps their most difficult challenge in recent times – golf.
In the months ensuing , both ladies had learnt more about themselves than they had expected. This is not an easy sport to learn, let alone play, and we await Coach Chong’s appraisal at our meeting place.
Before long , a tanned, athletic figure approached us, bearing a full suit of adidas-golf apparel. Chong Chee Ming does not look a year older than 30 but at 44, he is a well-respected member of the golfing community.
Currently, he is busy moving his training facility from Tropicana Golf & Country Resort to the nation’s top golfing facility at TPC Kuala Lumpur.
“Sorry, I’m late, but can we get something to eat first?”
And soon, we tucked into a brunch that consists of some very tasty nasi padang with a bagful of papadum, and I ordered my second cup of teh tarik for good measure. As we ate, we chatted, and soon, the conversation delved into the two ladies.
The journey of both had been well documented in our previous issue. Chong was encouraged to see that after six lessons, they learnt that golf meant more than just playing a game.
“Amelia has shown interest in the game, especially the opportunities that it provides,” observed the veteran coach.
“After the initial lessons, she has a much better understanding of what needs to be done to improve, and if she applies herself and spends more time practising , she could really progress quickly.
“From here on, she must go to the golf course and start discovering what the game is really like so that she is able to improve all round,” he concluded.
“As for Valerie, she is finally understanding the mechanics of her golf swing. She has been hitting the ball her own way but now, she’s more in tune with the proper technique after some drills.
“With some extra practice time, she can really show improvement in her game,” he encouraged.
Coming from a former national player whose career began almost 30 years back is a testament that anyone can learn the game, as long as they apply themselves to it. Much like his own story.
In his youth, the Ampang Road Boys’ Secondary School student had just started to pick up the game and it wasn’t long before the bug bit him.
The talented youngster had, by the time
he graduated, became a one-handicapped player. He then went on to complete his one-and-half-year stint at the Professional Golfers Career College (PGCC) in South California, United States.
It was there that he first learnt from and subsequently, tested himself against PGA Tour professionals.
Still a teenager then, he had participated in age group and junior competitions, maturing in the game month after month, match after match. At first, it was easy enough, youthful confidence helping to prevail over opponents that had undergone a far longer period of training , but soon, reality would set in and the travails of tournament golf would take its toll.
“When I was competing in the junior circuit, I pulled off something spectacular occasionally. But, I could not sustain the good form. I was never consistent,” he recalled.
When he returned, he joined the Malaysian Golf Association (MGA) between 1995 and 1998 and became a national team player.
“I had the chance to gauge my strength in various amateur open championships around the Asia-pacific region with the national team, and made some great friends along the way, friends who have now become colleagues here in Malaysia and in Singapore,” he said.
In 1998, at the age of 24, he finally turned professional. He tried his hand at the Asian Tour, the then ASEAN Tour and the local PGM Tour, the last of which he still plies from time to time.
“I turned professional because I was confident that I had the skills to pursue golf as a permanent career. I also wanted to explore other opportunities beyond playing competitively,” Chee Ming explained on his decision to become a teaching pro.
Right up till his late thirties, he still qualified for the Malaysian Open and Iskandar Johor Open on several occasions.
It is thus hard to understand why the former Malaysia Junior
Open champion’s second place at the Serendah Classic is his best achievement so far.
“At that time, playing took a back seat to juggling commitments in providing for my family and managing golf retail outlets, conducting coaching sessions as well as hosting events.
“I do not have the luxury to take part in more tournaments. But, I am fortunate because I have reliable partners to look after my family and businesses when I am away competing ,” he said.
In 2013, and together with Singapore-based professional Lip Ooi, they started an inter-nation matchplay event that had hopes of reviving interest in the game. That year gave birth to the Causeway Trophy.
Hosted by Laguna National Golf & Country Club, and sponsored by Prudential, Singapore’s professionals had a certain advantage in the first edition and won convincingly 15½ - 8 ½. The next year, Chee Ming returned with a team who had been waiting a year for revenge, and they did.
At an ardously difficult World Classic course, known to be the toughest in Asia, the Malaysians tackled “The Beast”, as it was called, together with a strong Singapore contingent to win 12½ - 11½ and took the trophy home.
“I was speechless,” said Chong after that victory. “After last year’s defeat, we were determined to win. It was a real ding-dong match and a memorable week.”
Sadly, that second edition proved to be its last and the trophy had remained in Malaysia ever since.
“I am still talking to Lip about the Causeway Trophy,” confessed the now 44-year-old veteran.
“We are still keen to bring back the Trophy. In fact, both our teams are ready to go again; we just need to get down to making it happen,” he said.
A rivalry between Malaysia and Singapore’s finest does sound like a dream match, and with Ryder Cup style formats including Foursome, Fourball and Singles, it provides for a scintillating competition that golfing fans can savour.
In fact, the previously non-playing captain Chong may even attempt to savage a point or two from the teebox, judging by his ability to tango with the rest of the younger players.
As recent as 2017, the nationally acclaimed teaching professional nearing his mid-40s played six PGM tournaments and while he earned a paltry sum of RM2,350, he still managed to return with a respectable national rank of 78. This, out of a combined 20 events that the full-time coach could not commit to.
“I am still turning up for tournaments as a competitor because I am passionate about golf. I aspire to improve on my game and
I am more realistic in setting targets. I am having fun attempting to fulfil my dream in becoming a more accomplished golfer,” said Chee Ming adding that his personal goal is to break par more constantly.
Humble to a fault, to his charges, Chee Ming’s qualities as a professional goes beyond shooting a number. While he could not play as much as he would like to, his passion and success as a teacher is undeniable. The nation’s most promising juniors had, over the years, been seen by him.
His approach to teaching had also adapted to newer techniques and technologies.
“My approach to the game was not as demanding compared with the juniors today. Now, the young golfers are taking a completely different journey because their parents are more serious and are investing a lot in them to do well. I am happy that I qualified to offer them assistance as their personal coach.”
Bringing promising juniors to the next level has been his calling card for a long time. But as noted earlier, this year, his challenge is different, and some might say, even more difficult – coaching successful women to become handicapped golfers.
As the ambassador to adidas-golf, he is tasked with growing the game and what better way then to spread the enjoyment and values of golf to individuals who are in turn, well placed to influence both young and old, societal as well as business leaders alike?
The first batch of Valerie Chan and Amelia Liew have almost completed their training and hopefully, they will go on to reap the benefits that all proponents of golf have learnt to savour.
“I can’t say I am completely happy with their progress but that is to be expected for anyone beginning golf for the first time in their lives,” opined Chong.
“Now, they need to start practising more and get on the course to continue their journey.”
For Valerie and Amelia, this is a journey that lasts a lifetime, and one that we know, is never too late to start.
CLOCKWISE FROMLEFT: Coach Chong demonstrating core stability at the backswing; Amelia, following suit with a textbook backswing turn; Amelia’s backswing, now under the advisement from coach Chong; A beautiful set of Taylormade clubs; Chee Ming looking to help Amelia set up squarely; The ladies, in synchronous swing; Chee Ming giving Amelia some final tips to close the day.