The time has come to reflect on my 2016 winter vacation (from Korea) following the sun and the Asian Tour, which turned out to be an incredible, eventful, fantastic, entertaining, tiring, emotional, (etc…) experience. I wasn’t sure if The Presidents Cup experience would ever be matched, but these five weeks certainly have left me with many fond memories.
It all began with the EurAsia Cup at Glenmarie Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
After both working for and attending The Presidents Cup in Korea, it was inevitable that I would be looking for comparisons between both; although the EurAsia Cup had only been hosted once before.
Firstly, the weather…it was hot, real hot, I mean like fry an egg on your forehead hot…oh and throw in 1,000,000% humidity and the worlds first open air sauna had been invented.
I always used to laugh seeing Asians putting up their umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun, but how silly us Westerners have been, only using these clever devices when the rain poured down on us.
Lesson of the Day: Did you know that umbrellas were originally invented to protect us from the sun, the inventor must have forgotten to copyright his glorious invention!
The set up in and around the Glenmaire Golf Club was top notch.
This is primarily based on the fact that they served up steak and mashed potatoes in the media centre for breakfast…to be fair, everything was very well run and professionally organized.
On the first practice day, I think I was the only person on the course apart from the players. With SPF 50 slobbered all over me, I felt invincible, which lasted for about 15 minutes, before I desperately looked for shade on a course that had less trees than a lumberjacks back garden.
This was the first time that professional players were allowed to wear shorts during their practice round and rightfully so. I thought my legs looked like OB stakes until I saw some of the pros knobbly knees: self-confidence restored!
On day two, the Pro-Am Day, I was signed up to make a ‘guest appearance’ as a volunteer, as there was royalty signed up to play; the Queen and Princess of Malaysia.
It turned out that they just wanted me to be a part of a ‘Rent-A-Crowd’ for the Queen when she cracked the opening tee-shot down the fairway: which she duly obliged and we all cheered as enthusiastically we could in the sweltering heat…
The rest of the day was spent wandering about the clubhouse/fairway on ‘standby’ in case we were needed by the Queen for assistance of any sort…I think her five minders were enough to ensure she was kept wrapped up in cotton wool all day (probably not the correct expression to use in the blistering sunshine).
The event itself was held over three days, from Friday to Sunday, and the European domination was evident from the off, as the Asians struggled to match the individual talents on show from the much more fancied team under the leadership of Captain Clarke.
With Shane Lowry being the only Irishman competing, I felt obliged to follow him for the three days, even though he did ask me what part of Cork I was from…he formed a very strong partnership with Andy Sullivan- quite possibly a pairing that we will see at the Ryder Cup later this year.
It came as no surprise that I was not going to be the only Irish person present at this event and even though the attendance figures were disappointingly low, we still managed to form an Irish Army that reached double figures- you literally cannot go anywhere in the world without bumping into a fellow red faced Paddy and a Kerry jersey too…
Although, hang tough and you will discover that I found two places where no Paddies were to be found, apart from myself and Niall of course…
The only slight disappointment though was the lack of local support, who undoubtedly would have given the Asians more encouragement to maximize their performance. The attendance figures were almost non existent. There is a lot of potential for is competition to grow into an event that will attract attention from all corners of the globe, especially with the game of golf continuing to grow in popularity all across Asia.
Similar to both the Ryder and Presidents Cup, it will take some time for this competition to peak in terms of interest and arguably competitiveness, although the latter may occur at the next event in 2018, especially if Asian golfers continue to emerge and be successful on all the Tours globally. My prediction for 2018 is a narrow win for Asia under the guidance of KJ Choi and YE Yang!
There was no Asian Tour event the week after the EurAsia Cup, so I popped down to Batam Island in Indonesia to hack up a few courses on the cheap.
It was a very relaxing and enjoyable few days that basically involved playing bad golf (although I went on a 5 hole par streak, followed by a triple bogey!), eating good food afterwards and hitting the nest in the early evening.
My initial plan was to stay for a week, but this is where the SOS call/text/tweet (I can’t remember which one…) came from Niall Turner to be his caddie for The Singapore Open. His regular caddie turned out to be not the most honest of characters,so it was time for a Kerryman to step in and save the day…I quickly accepted his offer and within a few hours I was on an express ferry to Singapore!
After checking into my hotel,which was based in the sleazy part of Singapore (I was unaware of this,I promise!), the plan was to meet my temporary boss at 9am on Tuesday morning. I tried to get to sleep by 9pm but my mind was in overdrive thinking about the potential possibilities a Cork and Kerry combo could do on the Asian Tour. Imagine Niall beat Jordan Spieth in a playoff in Singapore was the main thought/dream!? I eventually crashed at 11pm and this was the last night during the whole trip that I wasn’t extremely exhausted before fainting onto the hotel bed.
The next morning, I arrived at Sentosa Golf Club at 7am to collect my media pass and take advantage of the complimentary breakfast! Two hours later I met Niall for the first time, it was like love at first sight…well not really, but it was great to finally meet a Corkman who I had full respect for (this is an attempt at a joke-please address your complaint letters to…).
We played our first practice round with a 3 other golfers, one was Scott Strange, the other two I can’t remember, however, it was definitely not Jordan Spieth or Darren Clarke, I’m sure I’d remember if it was.
With Wednesday being a Pro-Am Day for the top players only,I took the opportunity to give Spieth an Ireland football (not soccer!) jersey and invited him to the 2017 Irish Open, which he said it’s a possibility.
In the locker room he was across from up,so by the end of the week,I was sick of the sight of him…
Video clip… https://youtu.be/tfchJXgvDAg
And so came Thursday…the opening day. Niall was pretty excited that we had been paired with and I quote the tee box announcer ‘The Flying Scotsman and legend of the Asian Tour’, Simon Yates. To be honest, I had never heard of him before and he had never heard of me either, so we had something in common immediately!
Niall began with a very impressive 69, which had nothing to do with me, but was a great way to begin my brief stint as a bag carrier/ball and club washer…I am not a professional caddie, but my cleaning skills are top notch!
With the flashiest caddie on tour, who is colour blind I believe…
Let me try and just summarize this: 730am tee off on 4th hole, temperature and humidity making a sauna feel like a fridge. 33 holes and 11 hours later, we staggered up the final hole absolutely wrecked. I was walking on my tippy toes for most of the second round as heat blisters had decided to invade both of my feet. I was so happy that Simon Yates (and his caddie) kept our spirits up with his Scottish banter, the other group member, Kobayashi not so much, with his limited English. He looked at me once as I shuffled up one of the fairways sweating like an Eskimo in the Sahara and said “Very hot”. That was the peak of our interaction…Saturday was certainly a tough day at the office, but Niall still managed to record two good rounds. I was still on a high to be caddying so my tippy toeing almost turned into a Riverdance performance at one stage.
After visiting the Tour physio to have my blisters treated, the final day felt like we had just played 9 holes of pitch n putt, it came and went so fast…Nialls birdie,birdie finish meant that he finished in a tie for 23rd,which was a great way to start the season. I put his performance down to 50% hard work and 50% good luck provided by his loyal follower for the week, Belfast Jonny, who is without a doubt the luckiest man I’ve ever met, but that’s another story,or two…
After landing in Myanmar on Monday morning,the contrast to Singapore was immediately evident, after flying out from one of the world’s top airports into one of the world’s not so lavish airports…the one thing I did notice though was the friendliness of the locals. Smiles all round!
I grabbed a taxi to the Royal Mingalardon Golf Club early Tuesday morning raring to go for our practice day.Once again the sun was targetting my fragile Irish skin from early morning, but thankfully the humidity missed the flight from Singapore.
We teamed up with two SAFFA’s- Shaun Norris and Keith Horne along with Brazilian Adilson Da Silva for 18 holes of golf and banter. Afterwards the draw was announced and we were paired up with the 2015 GS Caltex Open winner, Dong Hyun Moon and some Japanese dude whose name I can’t remember…
Wednesday was a day off so myself, Keith Horne and his caddie Deon met up for lunch in the ‘city’? We eventually found a place, after the taxi driver took us on an adventure all over the shop. Keith thought it would be wise to order the spiciest dish on the menu- the picture tells it all…
Shaun Norris,who went on to win, popped up with a 61 on Saturday and scooped up the title with relative ease on Sunday. I felt obliged (practice round buddies etc…) to wait by the 18th green to throw Myanmar Beer (which was free for all throughout the tournament) over him, but as I ran onto the green the bottle slipped out of my hand and all but a few drops hit the grass.Talk about ruining a moment of glory!
Niall finished in T35th to keep his impressive form flowing. We played with Carlos Pigem and Danthai Booma (and two Japanese fellas…)over the weekend. Two good prospects,as is every young golfer on tour these days…
Shauns caddie Ray and Keiths caddie Deon had crashed in the same hotel as me for the week,so it was good to get to know a few more on tour, even if they spoke Afrikaans half the time…
This is us doing our good deed for the year after buying footballs for some local kids.
I wish I had spent more time in Myanmar,but it was off to Dhaka for the Bangladesh Open and an experience I will most definitely never forget…
It all began with a 3 hour journey from the airport to the hotel. A ten kilometre journey…traffic in Dhaka was insane, I mean chaotic, there are no suitable words to describe it, to be honest. The hotel itself was pretty nice, thankfully.
We had a tee time of 1230pm on the first day and were in the marquee group along with local legend, the Bengali Tiger, Siddukur Rahman and Q School winner, Jay Chang. I asked at the hotel reception how far it was to the course. Luckily, only 5 kms. “Sir, if you leave at 630am, you will be there at 645am, but if you leave after 7am, it will take at least 2 hours…”, the hotel manager explained. So I was off to the course at 630am for a 1230pm tee off time…
I suppose in one way I was lucky to arrive so early as the taxi driver brought me to the wrong course first…As I sat in the wrong clubhouse watching a bunch of old dudes teeing off, I thought to myself, “these must be Bangladeshi amateur players invited to play in the tournament, maybe we can win this week…”. It wasn’t until I saw a 70+ year old hit his tee shot about 7 yards that it dawned on me that this was not the right place…another taxi needed and I eventually got to the Kurmitola Golf Club at around 830am,with only four hours to spare…
Apparently it was winter time in Bangladesh, so the weather was considered to be cool, approximately 25 degrees by midday…Because of this, the caddie bibs were lined with fleece, which insured my sweaty adventures across Asia would continue.
The course itself was in great shape with some very challenging holes. I particularly loved the par 5 whose green was right beside the train tracks, so when a train zoomed passed, all the locals hanging off the roof shouted and waved frantically at us. A unique distraction while putting!
Niall struggled on the first day to +2, but played much better on the second day and should have finished -3 for the day, except for a 4 putt in his 17th hole. Luckily, he still made the cut on the number,to keep the 100% record intact for 2016. Unfortunately, overnight he fell ill and was forced to withdraw from the tournament, so it was time for Plan B for me; back to mingling with the media folk.
I met up with Jeff, the main cameraman for the Asian Tour,and off we went around the course in our red carpeted buggy…yep, that’s not a typo…I was always interested in learning more about this type of work, and now I know, massive respect for the work Jeff does. Definitely not the easy gig most people assume it is, but certainly a lot of fun!
Seeing as I had the weekend off, I decided to change my flight to later in the evening that Niall withdrew,so I could spend an extra night in Kuala Lumpur, a city I love, especially for its food! My new flight time was now 11pm on Friday evening, or so I thought…As we boarded the plane,it was pretty apparent that we would be delayed due to heavy fog. It took the airplane staff SIX hours parked on the runway to realize this, but I wasn’t too bothered at that stage as I was getting my snore on…
Then the mayhem began…we were all told to get back off the plane at 5am and that our new flight time had been rescheduled to 5pm…😨 The chaos in the airport was off the charts,I just sat in the corner killing hungry mosquitoes, waiting to be ushered to a hotel for half a day, that turned into half an hour.
The hotel the airline tried to put us up in made Fawlty Towers look like the the Hilton. After grabbing a quick bite to eat off Manuel,it was straight back to the airport to try and catch any flight to Kuala Lumpur…What I didn’t realize was that I couldn’t get my luggage off the plane from the previous night, so I resigned myself to spending at least 11 hours in the airport lounge.
After mingling with Sheiks, cricketers, and golfers throughout the day in the lounge and eating about 100 vegetarian samosa’s , I could feel my mind slowly making its way onto the missing list…EVENTUALLY, my revised flight took off from Dhaka at 11:02pm- 24 hours late,after a 17 hour stay in the lounge…roll on Kuala Lumpur and my final event before heading back to South Korea.
Ahhhh KL, what a great feeling it was to be back there, after a one month absence! The golf tournament, the Maybank Malaysian Championship, had an enormous $3,000,000 prize money on offer and attracted a lot of the top players from the European Tour, as well as the top 60 from the Asian Tour- nobody eligible to play was missing this week.
On Monday afternoon (no need to guess the weather!), myself and Niall headed off for 9 holes, while the course was quiet.
It became evident that my cleaning skills would not be enough to help Niall out, as the new greens on the course proved to be harder to read than Donald Trumps autobiography.
It was on Tuesday morning, the first day of the Pro-Am that Niall broke the terrible news to me via Viber…I was fired from my first ever job…hahaha.😂. My body was so happy to be given the freedom to wander the fairways without that bag, but I thought it was best to wind Niall up a bit first, by telling him I changed my flight back to Korea for later that day and “all the best for the rest of the year”…see screenshot of our chat, although he did try to call me, but I was too busy stalking Denis Irwin!
So the dream was over,but my 100% cuts made as a ‘bag carrier’ will remain forever, unless he gets desperate again! Unfortunately, Niall was so emotionally unstable after our traumatic break up he went on to miss the cut, even with his usual caddie back on the bag… (joking Niall,in case you read this!). Niall showed some great form on the back 9 of round two, but at that stage the damage had been done.
Seeing as I was bagless, it was time to grab the media pass and team up with Jeff again. I became his tripod carrier, a position that won’t reach the summit of my CV,but it was a lot of fun spinning around the course, interviewing all of the top players and mingling with the media folk from all across the globe. This included a reunion with Thos from Golf File, who was like a child at Christmas when he met Denis Irwin…
Myself, Niall and his lucky charm Jonny wandered the fairways over the weekend, cheering on newly acclaimed honorary Irishman (99% American!) Casey O Toole, who had told me earlier in the week that his great great great grandfather was a potato farmer from Ireland…I’m assuming mine probably was too…
Casey certainly latched onto the luck of the Irish as he knocked in a hole in one and picked up a nice prize from Hilton Hotels (not Fawlty Towers!). His dad was also here for the event to support him, along with his 300 relatives on Twitter who stalked me for the weekend!
I had predicted all week that 150/1 outsider Soomin Lee would win. He knew this as I told him on Tuesday… if he didn’t drop 4 shots in the last 3 holes, I would have been right…poor kid was in tears afterwards,but I’m sure the $200,000+ pay-check for second place eased the pain…
And so my time on the Asian Tour came to an end. An experience I will never forget and hopefully relive again someday. Massive respect to all on the Asian Tour- in particular media,players,caddies,but most importantly thank you Niall for giving me the opportunity to enjoy an incredible month and thank you for firing me too…!!! Increase the peace, folks!