The Malaysian Reserve

It’s Green all the way…for now

The country’s collective desire to see one of its own joining the ranks of the world’s top golfers has been given the most encouraging boost. What’s more, he’s being pitted against some of Europe’s best in the Europe versus Asia matchplay battle for the EurAsia Cup at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club, beginning tomorrow

by SHIV DAS

The world of golf beckons and Malaysia’s Gavin Kyle Green (picture) is responding, rising in the ranks of the game’s professional elite as they stand in this day and age. Golf is at a maturity that makes being in the world’s Top 100, or if one wants to push it, the Top-50 or even less, that much harder to achieve because it’s white hot competition out there.

It’s in this environment that Green is emerging as a player to reckon with, not just at home, but in the region and even globally.

He’s topped the 2017 Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) ranking in earnings and has also become Asia’s No 1. True, one has to scroll down to 179 to get to his name in the list of world rankings (as at December), but he’s in a place where no Malaysian has ever been before.

Speaking to members of the media as he prepared to put in a practice round at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club a week ago, he said he really wanted to win in front of his home fans. Although Team Europe was a formidable side, “I think we have the talent to cause an upset,” he said.

It’s a fighting talk, given that the first two editions of the contest saw a 10-10 draw in the first, and a convincing win for Europe, 181⁄2 to 51⁄2 points, in the second.

Europe, with firepower derived from their superior world rankings and Ryder Cupexperienced players in their line-up, has the edge undoubtedly, but golf is a game that can turn the form book upside down, depending on a player’s form, each and every time he takes to the course.

Green has in his bag, apart from clubs, the fact that he has won three times on the Glenmarie course as an amateur, once as a professional and once coming in second. The second Malaysian in the team, Nicholas Fung, likewise should know the course well enough as a player on the local PGM Tour that has regular fixtures on the course year-in, year-out, and he’s a battlehardened EurAsia Cup “veteran”, having played in the first two editions.

Is that good enough to gain valuable matchplay points (because that’s the format in the three-day event) remains to be seen.

But back to Green and his rise to stardom thus far. There’s a gap between him and the next Malaysian, Fung, who is ranked 335th in the world.

Right now, Green stands qualified for the 2020 edition of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which requires qualifiers to be within the Top 300 in the world.

While playing on the PGM Tour has made all the difference for other Malaysian players, Green’s route has been somewhat different as he made headway largely on his own, playing college golf in America that has given him a big lift.

But being on the PGM Tour, first as an amateur (and winning the PGM Vascory Templer Park Championship in 2014), also helped him get to the 2016 Olympics as the other player to qualify in the “Men’s Division” alongside Danny Chia.

Aged just 24, Green can draw comparison with the likes of many of the current American stars (Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas), who showed their class when, as amateurs, they rose to the top in standings.

Green’s own exposure in America enabled him to take that very path and he ended up being the fifth ranked amateur in the world and at one with golf as a career.

From that point on, it was his commitment to the game and his underlying passion for it that’s come through. He had reason to be frustrated in the early stages of his professional career when he found the game had a set of realities he didn’t encounter as an amateur.

Handling expectations being one of them. The pressure and grind of playing professionally was new to him. But the transition had to be made with faith in his own abilities. If anything, it was the game in his head that had to be steadied.

Near winning that turned to winning has seen him topping the Asian Tour rankings in 2017. In October, he capped his season with a win at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters. It’s been a confidence booster and it opens new vistas for him, such as being able to tee up at the 2018 British Open and other tournaments that were “out of bounds” until now.

The fact that he was also voted the Most Popular Player in a poll among his playing peers is further testimony to his character, a vital ingredient in the mix he finds himself in, if he’s to make the most of his professional career.

He was seven when he first held golf clubs in his hands, after badgering his parents Gary and Vivienne to let him have a go. They now have every reason to be glad they became a lynchpin in his life’s purpose. By 11, he was hooked good and proper, setting his sights on a playing career inspired by the likes of Tiger Woods.

His track record thus far puts him further up the ladder to stardom that began with amateur wins beginning in 2009, when he won the Perlis Amateur, Malaysian Amateur Closed, the Kurnia Saujana Amateur, the TSM Golf Challenge and the Malaysian Junior Open.

The following year, it was the Malaysian Amateur Closed, TSM Golf Challenge, Sabah International Junior Masters. In 2011 — Kuala Lumpur Amateur, Malaysian Amateur Closed and the Kurnia Saujana Championship.

In 2012 — Malaysian Amateur Open, Saujana Championship and then it was onto college golf at the University of New Mexico, where he continued his stellar performance, among stiffer competition, with eight wins.

As an amateur, he donned Malaysian colours for the Eisenhower Trophy in 2012 and 2014.

He turned pro in 2015, his breakthrough wins coming at the 2016 Northport Glenmarie Championship and the ICTSI Manila Southwoods Championship.

What’s going for him? Physically, he stands 6ft-one-inch tall, weighs around 190lb (86kg), has power off the tee (he won the 2017 driving distance award) and a short game that, more or less, requires only tweaking every now and then. Experience and a good head on his shoulders should keep him on track.

His dream is to play on the PGA (Professional Golfers’ Association) Tour and given what he’s achieved thus far, he’s headed that way.

The EurAsia Cup will kick off his 2018 season that will see him playing more on the Asian Tour, even as he heads for The Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland in July, a prize in itself for being No 1 in Asia.