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.

Golf Vacations (Malaysia) - - Contents - BY BENNY TEO

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.

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