All set for PGM Tour-IGT Matchplay thriller
Tun Ahmad Sarji

The battle lines are drawn for the third edition of the Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour-Indonesian Golf Tour (IGT) Matchplay event, Ryder Cup style, from Aug 1-3, and all indications are the friendly rivalry between the two geographical neighbours is intensifying.

In the first of the two annual encounters so far, it was PGM that came out swinging and winning big at Kota Seriemas Golf and Country Club in Nilai in 2016, when individual and team events decided the winners, but the tables were turned last year by the Indonesians, also emphatically, on their home turf and this despite the Indonesian Tour not having as many professional players as Malaysia to pick from, when the format was switched to Matchplay.

This time around, the battleground is Tiara Melaka Golf and Country Club in Ayer Keroh, in historic Melaka. Lessons learned by both teams are expected to pitch strategy versus strategy, but in the end it is execution that counts.

In effect, it was players from two “companies” — IGT and PGM — not so much countries, as in the case of the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup (America versus Europe).

Yet, it’s Matchplay with 12 golfers on each side going head-to-head in Foursomes, Four Ball and Singles format matches.

Pairings for the first two formats have to capitalise on individual player strengths (a player may excel in long hitting, while his partner may be good with the short game, meaning approach shots and putting).

Pairings also have to take into account compatibility and ability to see eye-to-eye in deciding the kind of shots to be played. This is where team captains come in to gel

partnerships together and work on strategy. PGM chairman Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid (picture) spoke for M Ramayah, a seasoned veteran, who was among the leading stars in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and who takes on the role of non-playing captain for PGM.

“We know the Indonesians are strong. They showed it on home ground, playing consistently well around and on the greens, while we faltered,” said Ahmad Sarji, speaking to the media at the PGM office in Plaza Damansara on July 11.

Choosing a captain from among players had proven to be a bad idea, because he would be caught between playing his own game and that of others in his charge.

Ramayah spoke about the kinds of strategic moves he would have to make to achieve success. A Matchplay tournament on the PGM Tour calendar held recently saw S Sivachandhran winning and assuring his spot on the team. Last year, he failed to do so, but was raring to go this time.

Seven of last year’s team return this time. Five of PGM’s top players, however, can’t make it due to playing commitments on the Asian Tour, which, nevertheless, is a dream come true for Ahmad Sarji who had envisioned it as one of his KPIs (key performance indicators) as tour initiator and promoter.

The other 11 members of the team comprise — Kenneth de Silva who was runner-up to Sivachandhran, Daeng Abdul Rahman Abdul Aziz (third), Amir Nazrin Jailani (fourth), Khor Kheng Hwai (winner, Matchplay 2017), R Nachimuthu (second, Matchplay 2017), Amirul Aizat Abdul Bahar (third, Matchplay 2017), Shahriffuddin Ariffin (fourth, Matchplay 2017),

Sukree Othman (by virtue of playing more than half the PGM Tour events, currently ranks fourth on the Tour’s money list), Kim Leun Kwang (played more than half the PGM Tour events and ranks ninth on the money list), Mohammad Wafiyuddin Abdul Manaf (played more than half the Tour events and is 13th on the money list) and Mohd Nazri Mohd Zain (played more than half the Tour events and 17th on the money list).

Since no stones are being left unturned for success on home turf, the team will have practice rounds from July 17-19, over and above two practice days just before the event.

The Indonesian team is expected to do likewise, flying in on July 30.

Ahmad Sarji saw the value of the event as fostering team spirit among the players, unlike regular tournaments that were all about individual play, players going about their business with little interaction.

There is prize money of RM200,000 to be shared — RM130,000 going to the winning team. Before this event, Malaysia, with PGM as the facilitator, had hosted the EurAsia Cup (Europe versus Asia) three times (2014, 2016, 2018).

While it couldn’t be compared to the Ryder Cup in terms of history, importance, following and sponsorship, it, nevertheless, had corporate support to see it through, showcasing not only the event, but the country as well with widespread television coverage.

Ahmad Sarji took the opportunity to brief the media on the standard of Malaysian players that has been rising steadily ever since the PGM Tour took off in 2010 and is best seen in world rankings.

Currently, there are 10 Malaysians on the bigger Asian Tour, which spoke volumes about newfound abilities, consistently shooting below- par scores in the 60s and even winning on Asian Tour, where competition was far stiffer.

Sponsors supporting the PGM Tour are keeping faith with it. The 2018 season sponsorship is intact. But, to keep things going, there is a need to step up effort in seeking sponsors and giving them value. Title sponsors currently have their names out front, but other perks have to be on the plate.

As for the PGM-IGT Championship, global insurance giant Zurich Insurance Group Ltd had lent some support. The effort to secure such backing will be stepped up for the events to come.

Thoughts are being turned to the Tokyo Olympics in 2020 to see if Malaysian players could repeat their feat at the Rio Games (2016), when the full quota of four players (two
men and two women) got to represent the country on merit by coming within the world rankings required.

Ahmad Sarji recalled the corporate funding by UMW Corp Sdn Bhd made available for the special preparation laid out for the qualifiers, and which included special coaching, physical preparation and even diet.

“We are hoping for similar assistance for the coming Olympics, but everything hinges on players coming within the top 300 in the Official World Golf rankings.” For now, only Gavin Kyle Green has met the criteria, standing ranked 215. — COURTESY OF GOLF MALAYSIA