You won’t be surprised to know that the United States is the #1 golf market in the world. You might however be surprised that three of the next five are in Asia. Japan, South Korea and China rank #2, #3 and #6 respectively, with southeast Asia expected to be the next major growth area. Golf in Asia is rich with opportunity and that’s what the One Asia Tour promises. The One Asia Tour has gained its members entry into the biggest events in Asia and Australia for the past few years. Co-Sanctioned events including Volvo China Open, Konlon Korean Open, Australian Open are just a few on the schedule of 9 events featuring purses of over $1,000,000.
The One Asia Tour has been a major breakthrough tour for friends of mine from all over the world, who have racked up world ranking points and a large amounts of money in their bank accounts. This year’s qualifier was held in Borneo, an island conjuring up Indiana Jones-like adventures through jungles and long-lost, ancient temples. I made the long trek to this wild place on a treasure hunt of my own.
Sarah and I flew into Kota Kinabalu, the only city on the Malaysian side of Borneo. The airport is small but fairly modern by southeast Asia standards. What’s always amazed me about Malaysia is how much you can learn by talking to cab drivers. The cab drivers here are all multi-lingual, some speaking three or four languages. It’s astounding that people with these skills are earning $5/hour. This alone points out the randomness and importance of living in a society that values your skills. This, as much as anything, can determine financial success.
People here are kind. Very kind. They are all too willing to go out of their way to speak with you and make recommendations. There are a lot of preconceptions in the western world about visiting Muslim countries and while some of those notions may be justified and vigilance when traveling should always be exercised to a degree, I’ve always felt totally safe in Malaysia. Malaysia is a tropical place filled with exotic wildlife and landscapes, with the sun rays that could burn the most Mediterranean complexions (we kept a massive Srixon umbrella up at all times on the golf course for shady refuge).
The tournament was held at Sutera Harbour Golf Course at the Sutera Harbour Resort. The golf course was an older-style, resort course with picturesque ocean-side holes, a lot of water in play and old, grainy Bermuda grass ready to coil around a laid to rest, errant shot like a hungry python. The greens had been baked out by the sweltering Malaysian sun rays and warm ocean breezes.
Precision, particularly off the tee, would be the key to contending this week.
As has been the trend lately, I got off to a slow and shaky start. I had the best conditions of the tournament early in the first round and failed to take advantage. An uninspiring day all around led to a quick +2 start after round 1. But as has been the case with the evolution of my game throughout tournament weeks, I improved with each day. Round 2 and Round 3, I posted scores of even par and -2 respectively, as the winds kicked up and the greens dried into concrete. Headed into the final round, I was tied for the lead, in a perfect spot to contend and certainly gain one of the 5 full status cards offered.
To escape the exhausting heat of the course and practice areas, Sarah and I found a few delicious bistros in the heart of Kota Kinabalu. Chilli Vanilla was a Hungarian cafe featuring classic European decor and amazing kabobs with a mouth watering mint, lime glaze. El Centro was a Malaysian/Mexican fusion spot with cheap beer, flavorful and fresh tacos. Welcome Seafood was seafood Malay-style. Pick the fish or crustacean, which was kept fresh in a tank, choose how you wanted it cooked and in what, and it was delivered straight to your table cheaply (and sparing no part of the fish! Did you know scallops actually have orange sacks attached to them? More on that in another post). We ventured into the center of KK every night to discover local delicacies and get away from the pressure of the tournament.
As the fourth round began, I felt the nerves grip my lungs. Breathing became increasingly challenging, as did swinging. I ran off a couple early bogies before making one swing that changed the course of the day. After deciding to hit a 3-wood off the tee on a long par 5 (because I knew it practically guaranteed a spot in the fairway and took most trouble out of play), I made a confident swing and caught the ball perfectly in the center of the face. The towering flight soared on the perfect line with a touch of draw on the dogleg left, exactly how I visualized it. The ball landed and rolled past my playing opponents drivers. I went on to make birdie there and birdied two of the next four holes following.
When the final putts were holed, I finished the day at even par, one off the lead and in a tie for 2nd place, securing my place on the One Asia Tour. This marked my third consecutive top 15 finish (4th at PGA Tour China, 11th at Volvo China Open qualifying, and 2nd here). In the moment, I was really disappointed I wasn’t able to finish stronger with a birdie and give myself a better chance to win. In hindsight however, I have the greatest opportunities of my golf career ahead. The pathway for 2016 to be the best year of my life is created. Now its time to walk a higher path.