Sarawak Championship — golf’s new ‘biggie’
Ben Leong

The inaugural US$300,000 (RM1.21 million) Sarawak Championship, to be held from July 4-7, is a brand new Asian Tour event featuring 150 of the region’s top golfers.

It is set to provide much needed exposure on home ground for 25 Malaysian pros.

Local star Ben Leong (picture) hopes a positive mindset will guide him to victory, because he’s no stranger to strong finishes and even winning ways.

Hailing from the sister state of Sabah, the 32-year-old Malaysian was making strides as a player to watch when he first won on the Asian Tour in 2008 — but then a serious back injury seemed to cast doubts on his career.

However, he’s beginning to show signs of a comeback since earning his Asian Tour card by finishing fourth at the 2017 Qualifying School in Thailand and going on to win on the Asian Development Tour in the same year.

He also finished 40th on the Habitat for Humanity Standings last year to retain his full Asian Tour card. He’s now set his sights on returning to the winner’s circle.

At the Championship, he will have the company of fellow Sabahan and Asian Tour winner Nicholas Fung, but they will come up against seasoned Asian stars Shiv Kapur and Gaganjeet Bhullar, and John Catlin and Paul Peterson of the US, who will spearhead the international challenge on the Arnold Palmer designed 18 at the Damai Golf and Country Club.

It has been a solid year so far for Leong on the Asian Tour, with his best result in tied 10th at the Panasonic Open Golf Championship in Japan in April. Outside the golf course, he also welcomed his first child.

“It has been great being a new father and seeing my son growing up. I tend to miss him more now since I’m travelling, so it is nice to have a full field Asian Tour event in Malaysia. It is not far from home and it will be fun.

“The Damai course is also a nice tract, so I’m really looking forward to it.”

With four missed cuts in nine Asian Tour appearances so far this year, Leong believes he needs to find his A-game in a busy stretch of events coming up.

“I have good memories winning in Malaysia. Every Malaysian golfer will be excited to play in the event. I would give myself a “B” on the report card for being patient and positive.

“I’ve really been grinding out in my last few tournaments, but I am working towards playing my best golf again.”

The Sarawak Championship is the third new Asian Tour event announced this year, following the Asia-Pacific Classic in China and CNS Open Golf Championship, which is staged in Pakistan. The Asian Tour also sanctioned the ISPS HANDA New Zealand Open for the first time earlier in the year.

The new event, supported by Sarawak’s Ministry of Tourism, Art, Culture, Youth and Sports, will serve to showcase the state through the match highlights on TV beamed to the vast region that has China, India, Japan and Korea, together with Asean — the grouping comprising Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, the Philippines, Laos and Brunei.

The best players available will be teeing up at the event, reflecting the explosion of interest and development of golf sweeping the region.

Asian Tour CEO Josh Burack said the event was the fourth sanctioned in Malaysia in 2018, the others being the EurAsia Cup (the biennial team battle between Europe and Asia held in January), the Maybank Championship (February) and the CIMB Classic (October).

“Malaysia is a very important market for the Asian Tour and we are delighted to add the Sarawak Championship,” Burack said and was gratified by the support from the Sarawak government and all who helped put the event together.

He said the players were excited to play in Sarawak and enjoy the culture the state had to offer. It is not just TV, but digital media channels too that would feature the tournament. — COURTESY OF GOLF MALAYSIA