Irfan Yusoff — Rise of the young Turk from Kedah

Many of the winners on the Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour come from strong, prominent amateur backgrounds. They either represented the nation or won State Amateur Opens en route to turning pro.

Irfan Yusoff, who hails from Jitra, Kedah, cannot claim either and simply had to bide his time patiently after turning pro in December 2012 at the age of 18.

“I think I got serious around 13 as I started to play in SportExcel tournaments where my best finish was sixth in Bukit Jambul,” recalled Irfan. “By age 14, I was playing to a 14 handicap and by 16 my handicap was down to six.

“However I did not win any of those events or play for the national team,” he added.

As it turned out that did not become a handicap as he proved later. Still, the learning curve was long and hard and he had to endure missed cuts a number of times during his rookie season in 2013.

However, a spate of consecutive missed cuts in 2014 convinced the young professional to seek help in swing matters. He started working with Steven Gulliano, an Australian PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) instructor based in The Mines Resort and Golf Club.

The transformation was quite apparent as Irfan started making cuts and showed noticeable improvement in his swing. Gulliano currently coaches leading Malaysian pros Danny Chia and Nicholas Fung, as well as Canadian Richard T Lee and India’s Khalin Joshi.

“I started to make more cuts. I had my first Top-10 finish (T7) in the 2014 PGM Tiara Melaka Closed Championship. For seven months, I played well and felt more confident,” he said.

2015 brought much change for Irfan. For one, he joined Akademi Golf Felda (Federal Land Development Authority) in Taiping for six months. “I wanted to undergo a regimented fitness programme to improve my stamina. I only played eight tournaments then, but after the Raya break my game showed improvement. I reached the quarterfinals in the PGM I&P Matchplay Championship and then there was my win at the PGM Impian Closed Championship in October,” he added.

Then 21, Irfan never imagined that his maiden victory at Impian would come after 24 holes of play on the final day.

The going got tighter as both Irfan and S Sivachandhran closed with five-under 67s, while midway leader Lam Yu Shuen, who was 10-under at that stage, came back into the reckoning with an even-par 72 to set the stage for a thrilling finish.

Ben Leong, who led after the third round, was fourth on nine-under 279, missed out on the playoff by a single stroke having shot a fourth round 73.

But Irfan proved to be a pillar of strength in the playoff making pars at every hole of the six-hole playoff. Siva bogeyed the fourth and left the contest to Lam and Irfan.

Lam drove poorly on the sixth extra hole and conceded defeat after bogeying the hole as Irfan parred to register his first win on the PGM circuit and a handsome cheque for RM30,600.

“I tried to keep calm and just play one shot at a time and in the end it worked out fine,” he said then.

“My plan was to go for birdie and then par,” said Irfan who started the final day five shots behind Leong.

“I knew it was not easy as Ben was in great form and won the previous week by a big margin.”

His third round 67, one of his best rounds on the Tour, included birdies at holes six, eight, 11, 13, 16 and 17 and a bogey at 15.

2016 was a period of adjustment for the then 22-year-old as he sorted through swing fixes and struggled for much of the season. His best finishes, seventh place came in the PGM Darulaman Championship and ninth spot in the PGM I&P Group Kinrara Matchplay.

From the high of finishing 20th on the Order of Merit in 2015, he fell six places into 26th place the following year. But 2017 witnessed both highs and lows with the bright spot coming with his runner-up finish in the PGM Palm Resort Closed Championship in Senai, Johor. Later he missed the cut in the Northport Glenmarie Championship, an Asian Development Tour (ADT) event, where the halfway cut was two-under.

At Palm Resort, Irfan produced his lowest four-round score of 13-under 275 with rounds of 70-69-69-67. Despite this, he had to play second fiddle to winner Khor Kheng Hwai who won by 10 shots, closing with a brilliant eight-under 64.

But Irfan was pleased to finish ahead of a chasing pack that included some of the most successful touring pros, including R Nachimuthu, Danny Chia, Nicholas Fung and Ben Leong.

The 23-year-old still has a lot of work ahead of him to achieve his playing and career goals.

“Right now, I’m hitting 67% of fairways based on the stats but I would like to get it to 75%. On average, I hit 13 greens in regulation but would like that to increase to 15,” he said.

“I’m working on shot shape these days. When it comes to approach shots, I’m quite confident 100 yards in, but am still struggling with shots of 50-60 yards,” he admitted.

“When it comes to scoring, it will still be the par-5s and the par-3s that will be good for pars, but I tend to lose shots on the par-4s where you can’t afford to make mistakes.

“This year, I plan to play in all the PGM tournaments. My aim is to finish Top-10 in the Order of Merit so that I can qualify for the Maybank Championship.

“I still have membership on the ADT, so I’m eligible through country exemption to play in Asian Tour full field events,” said Irfan.

Perhaps that dream may be closer than Irfan realises provided he keeps the momentum he has set in this year’s circuit, where he currently lies in 10th place with winnings of RM38,356, after the completion of the PGM Perlis Closed Championship. — courtesy of Golf Malaysia magazine

Irfan Yusoff — Rise of the young Turk from Kedah