The Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia not only represents a world-class golfing event to showcase the country to the world, but it’s also in the forefront of growing the game in the country and the region. Pulling all the stops to ensure its success has made it one of the most popular events on women’s professional tour
by SHIV DAS
IT WAS as exciting a finish any golf fan could have wished for at the just-concluded US$1.8 million (RM7.61 million) 2017 Sime Darby Ladies Professional Golfers’ Association (LPGA) Malaysia at TPC Kuala Lumpur.
There they were, American Cristie Kerr and Feng Shanshan of China locked on 14-under, playing the final 18th hole. Both were on — Kerr further from the pin at 35ft, Feng closer. (South Korean Kim Sei-Young, also with them, was out of the picture as she was on 11-under at that point.)
Two others, Americans Jacqui Concolino and Danielle Kang, who had completed their round earlier, were also on 14-under, waiting. There was a distinct possibility of a playoff.
A hush fell on the crowd watching the final drama unfold. Kerr took her time sizing up her putt and when she finally stroked it, it seemed almost slow motion before the ball dropped in. The roar and clapping that erupted died down quickly, as it was Feng’s turn.
Could she do it? Alas, she just couldn’t, the ball sliding left of the hole. The title was Kerr’s on 15-under for her 20th LPGA Tour title. The US$270,000 she picked up took her career earnings to nearly US$20 million over a span of 20 years.
Success has its reward, but not without the grind they have to undergo to earn it.
For the title sponsor (Sime Darby Property Bhd), TPC Kuala Lumpur and all the co-sponsors, big and small, the tournament officials, event managers and volunteers, it was another occasion to savour in retrospect.
The TV broadcast to millions of viewers around the world, and exposure for sponsors via the banners, billboards and more so, the well positioned A-boards, would have been most pleasing whenever the cameras panned them, while focusing on player actions. It represented money worth spending.
For Sime Darby and Tun Musa Hitam, chairman of its foundation heavily involved with the country’s player development and funding for cancer research, it was the eighth year of achievement on the trot for raising money for the good cause. This year, it was over RM200,000 for adding to the total of RM2.6 million collected over the past seven years the tournament has been held.
The development programme helping talented Malaysian youngsters to play in the LPGA event through a qualifying tournament, is showing results. Amateur Natasha Andrea Oon, 16, came out tops, enabling her to be in the mix for the second time. The other amateurs were Winnie Ng, 16, as well as Liyana Durisic and Zulaikah Nurziana Nasser who won spots in the Under-16 category.
It was Ng who was on cloud nine, emerging as the best amateur, finishing 64th in the 78 strong field. Oon was 68th, compatriots Nur Durriyah Damian, Durisic and Zulaikah Nurziana further back.
Professionals Kelly Tan and Michelle Koh, who played via sponsor invites, had a disappointing outing, but are surely better for the experience.
Grant Slack, senior VP and MD of IMG Golf, the global sports management giant, noted that TPC Kuala Lumpur had proven itself to be an excellent venue for staging world-class international events.
The event had also established “a reputation for delivering four days of first-class entertainment off the golf course”, alongside what had come to be one of the most successful events on the LPGA Tour.
LPGA commissioner Michael Whan recalled it was in 1950 that 13 women had founded the LPGA, “to give the best female players opportunity to earn a living and to compete to see who would be the world’s best”.
Just 67 years later, the LPGA has become “the world’s longest running professional women’s sports league, reaching all corners of the globe”. The number of events now totalled 34 in 15 different countries with players from 30 countries.
For 2017, players were competing for a total of US$67.65 million in prize money.
This year’s event was in keeping with the players’ commitment to leaving the game better than they found it.
Last year, golf had returned to the Olympics for the first time in 100 years and would feature in the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
In August, the 12 best American players had taken on their counterparts in Europe for the Solheim Cup in Des Moines, Iowa.
The event in Malaysia had lived up to its reputation as the “most fun event” in the country, given the food, entertainment, the Nerf Nation Kids Zone, access to the swimming pool, bargain shopping for golf gear and giveaways galore.
The sponsor list, apart from the title sponsor Sime Darby, is long: Bank of Singapore Ltd, Samdasoo (mineral water), Amnig (apparel), One World Hotel, Singapore Airlines Ltd, Royal Sporting House Ltd (retailer), TaylorMade Golf (golf equipment), Bridgestone Golf (golf balls), Ecco Golf (footwear), Auto Bavaria (car), Glocomp (broadband provider), Simoco (walkie talkie), Sime Darby Industrial Sdn Bhd (power), Ramsay Sime Darby Health Care Sdn Bhd (medical provider), Tanamera (personal care), La Cremeria (ice cream), Gatorade (isotonic drink), Chang (beer), Old Pulteney (whisky), Caorunn (gin), Konica Minolta (media centre), Astro (broadcaster), Nespresso (coffee) and Cancer Research Malaysia (charity).