The dilemma facing local golf pros

Malaysia's Airil Rizman is a talented professional golfer, who has performed well in some Asian Tour events, especially in the Asian Development Tour tournaments.

But nowadays, the celebrated golfer - Malaysian amateur champion in 1998, 1999 and 2001, team gold medallist at the 2001 South-east Asia Games and Pakistan Open (Asian Tour) winner in 2007 - seldom travels out of the country to play.

A Malaysian source told me in Vietnam recently: "It is disappointing. But then he has a good reason to stay in Malaysia.

"The Malaysian domestic circuit is a lively one. It has 13 local tournaments and 15 Asian Development Tour events which offer just over a total of RM5.6 million (S$1.8 million).

"So can you blame him for not venturing out?"

Certainly not, when you consider that built-in costs for tournaments abroad - travel, accommodation, meals and caddie expenses - are on the high side for mid-standard and rookie pros.

And when a player misses the cut - or finishes outside the top 30 in many regional tournaments which offer a prize-money of US$300,000 (S$420,000) - he runs into a deficit.

That is the big dilemma also facing many Singapore professionals.

Except for Singapore's No. 1 golfer Mardan Mamat, who finished 17th in the Asian Tour Order Of Merit (OOM) this year with total earnings of US$177,117, the other local professionals have a tough time cutting it on the pro circuit.

Take for instance, players such as Koh Dengshan, Choo Tze Huang and Goh Kun Yang.

Being outside the top-65 on the Asian Tour's OOM, they can play in only certain events.

And when they do, they face the pressure of having to do well. Or else they lose money.

In fact, sometimes it is better to miss the cut than to finish low down the final leaderboard.

A case in point was last week's Asian Tour's Philippine Open in Tarlac. The three promising Singaporeans made the cut, but Koh finished 27th (out of 144 golfers), and earned US$2,490, Goh was 48th and bagged US$1,380 and Choo ended up 55th for US$1,035.

Such prize-money is insufficient for a seven-day stay in the Philippines, with other inherent costs.

And when it comes to playing in India, the costs (flight, accommodation etc) could be hefty.

The answer probably lies in a strong domestic Tour, as it is with Malaysia, India and Thailand where there is added benefit of strong sponsorship and encouraging backing from "godfathers" such as businessmen and company bosses.

The Singapore Professional Golfers' Association (SPGA) struggled to put up a seven-leg domestic Tour this year.

And that only came about because the SPGA president M Murugiah has gone beyond his calling to source for sponsors and make appeals to buddies for help.

Even then, with only $30,000 or less offered in total prize money for each event, the domestic Tour is hardly one that can provide a career for our playing professionals.

That is why the percentage of playing pros to teaching pros is so low in Singapore.

And when the teaching pros get a chance to compete, they normally struggle and return high scores.

Murugiah laments: "If our big companies and local corporates do not come forward, we will be in big trouble.

"Sometimes, it is not a question of just providing money. If an airline can provide free tickets for our national golfers, that will go a long way in helping to cut down costs for the players."

But Murugiah is not one to give up the fight, especially because he feels that many clubs, such as Laguna and Warren, have been very supportive.

While he appeals for more sponsorship, the former national player is grateful to companies such as Boustead, Cocoa Trees, Mitsubishi Electric, Seagull Marine, Anderco and Prestige Golf, who answered the SPGA call for support this year.

And he is prepared to go the extra mile to ensure that Singapore pros can compete with the best in the region.

This article was first published on December 23, 2015.
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