When world’s top golfers strut their stuff

It is the human side of top-notch golfers that tends to stay hidden in the middle of focus on  the clinical side of great play and glory of hard-fought victory…and money

By SHIV DAS

They are good, but how good they are went on exhibition at the just concluded ninth edition of the CIMB Classic.

When they hit it good, it was precision, precision, precision — getting the yardage to the greens right, reading the lines on the greens, for holing out, spot on, birdies coming in a row, with an eagle or two in between or even a chip in from outside. There’s was even a hole-in-one.

Then there’s consistency, shot after shot, hole after hole, fairways, greens in regulation and sand saves that help produce under-par scores, the magical 10 or even 11 included, once deemed
near impossible, but now being breached with more regularity.

Clubs and balls are being constantly upgraded, taken to new levels of forgiveness, accuracy, shaping of shots and distance. Coaching has become highly technical with gadgetry to examine even the workings of the mind. Everything aimed at elusive perfection.

The latest edition of the CIMB Classic had all of that on display, four rounds of it, with Marc Leishman of Australia coming real good in the end to win the title and US$1.26 million (RM5.2 million), not bad for four days’ work, if one doesn’t consider the years of toil and heartbreaks along the way.

Fair compensation one might say. In his post-win media conference, Leishman had reason to say money is not everything, because he’d gone through a bad patch in his life with his wife coming down with a life-threatening respiratory issue in 2015. Thankfully, after three years, she’s now been given a clean bill of health.

If he was chasing after money and glory before, he had now woken up to the reality that money was not everything. He said as much in his post-victory media conference, when asked what the win meant to him, after that harrowing experience.

He said the scare had made him “appreciate everyday things more…friends, family, kids. I won’t say golf is not important. Yes, I have won a few trophies, but even if I hadn’t won, it was knowing I had given it my best shot, that’s what is important and what golf is all about”.

It was the human side of top-notch golfers that tends to stay hidden in the middle of focus on the clinical side of great play and glory of hard-fought victory…and money.

That said, it was the fourth PGA TOUR win for the 34-year-old Aussie, now ranked 16th in the world, the five-stroke margin that showed his dominant play, having gone into the final round tied with American Gary Woodland and India’s Shubhankar Sharma.

He had six birdies in the first 10 holes, including a birdie binge from Hole 2 to 5. Steady as it goes was very much it, safe play, too, laying up on Hole 17 and calmly unleashing his skills on the last, par-5. His superb third shot left him just feet away from the pin and when he sank it for his eighth birdie of the round, a great roar rang out from the watching crowd.

It was a popular win, even though the crowd was noticeably rooting for an Asian victory (Sharma) all through. It didn’t have any effect on the Aussie, used as he is to playing on the PGA TOUR in America, where bias is slanted towards American stars. The same in Australia with the biggest cheers reserved for its nationals. All’s fair and square, as far as he’s concerned.

His 26-under 262 total tied the record set by pre-tournament favourite Justin Thomas, twice winner (2015, 2016) and pumped up for a possible hat trick that would be a first. It didn’t materialise, but he did manage a charge in the end to tie for fifth with, a final round eight-under 64.

Patrick Anthony Perez, last year’s winner, didn’t contend at all. Neither did Ryan Moore.

Leishman was off to the CJ Cup in South Korea next, where he finished second best to Thomas last year. His winning form is timely as it’s World Cup time in Melbourne next month and his partner is Cameron Smith.

It was the duo of Argentina’s Emiliano Grillo, who shot a six-under 66, and American Chesson Hadley, who finished with a 67, that saw them leapfrog to tie for second with first round leader American Bronson Burgoon.

Sharma was disappointment personified, as he had his chance at a win that would have opened the door to the PGA TOUR all striving pros have in their sights. Three bad holes on the back-nine and his inability to convert makeable putts subsequently did him in. But looking back on the week, he said, “a Top-10 is never bad on the PGA TOUR. Finishes like this tell me I can do it.”

Malaysia was represented by Ben Leong — who took the place of Gavin Kyle Green, automatic qualifier based on his world ranking, but now playing on the European Tour — and Kim Leun Kwang, by virtue of his winning the local qualifier, the CIMB Malaysian Championship. They were placed 54th and 78th respectively in the no-cut event with sure money.

Leong walked away with US$14,280 and Kim, US$11,200.

Much can be said for TPC Kuala Lumpur (TPCKL) that hosted the CIMB Classic. For that, turn to Todd Rhinehart, who said the golf course took in 14 inches of rain from Monday leading up to the Sunday close of the tournament.

“The fact that, probably the first time in professional golf in Malaysia we played the ball down, as it lies, for all four days, is testament to TPCKL’s Mohd Nizam Othman, Malaysia’s first certified golf course superintendent, the club’s CEO Steven Thielke and the entire team getting this golf course in pristine shape and which the players absolutely loved.”

There were no rain delays, despite it being hard out here not having any.

PGA TOUR’s old tagline, “These guys are good” was proven once again. The players had to change their game plan from the previous editions of the tournament to cope with the course changes that required different layups in approaching the greens on certain holes.

“The golf course is in great shape. The greens are rolling so true and these are the top players in the world…it’s actually fun to watch the birdies and eagles. It’s been a great week, with a lot of great support, lots of VVIPs and great crowds.”

The tournament is slated for another two years under the existing contract and will be highly anticipated.