Arie Irawan meant so much to so many

News of his death stunned everybody who knew Arie, an international player who travelled all over the world playing golf

By Laury Livsey / PGA TOUR SERIES – CHINA

The photo shows the golfer with his arm around his caddie. They’re both smiling. They should be.

Last year playing on PGA Tour Series-China, the player, Malaysia’s Arie Irawan, and the caddie, his wife of three weeks, the former Marina Malek, travelled to Guilin, China, where Arie played well at that week’s tournament and was in contention before eventually settling for a tie for fourth.

Although Marina knew very little about golf, she was ready for the challenge of caddying, she loved who she was working with for that week and her “boss” was more than happy with her performance.

“I’m so lucky I have my wife here this week,” Arie said following his first round. “This is the first time Marina is travelling and caddying for me, and she’s also taking care of the food, so that makes it easy.

“It helps a lot having her out there. It just makes me more calm, and that’s why I didn’t make any bogeys today. She makes me happy.”

Arie with his wife, Marina. ‘It helps a lot having her out there. It just makes me more calm, and that’s why I didn’t make any bogeys today. She makes me happy,’ the late Arie said last year at PGA Tour Series-China

That joy turned to sadness in a stunning way on Sunday morning (April 7) in Sanya, China, as Arie never woke up, dying in his sleep in his hotel room as resuscitation efforts were unsuccessful. He was 28.

Arie was in Sanya for another tournament, this time the Sanya Championship, the second event of the PGA Tour Series-China season. Marina was back home in Malaysia.

Arie had missed the cut a week earlier in Chongqing and didn’t play well in Sanya, not qualifying for weekend play again. But since he was already in the resort city bordering the South China Sea, Arie elected to stay on site in a hotel room he was sharing with fellow player Kevin Techakanokboon.

His plan was to then travel to Haikou, about a 90-minute train ride on the north side of Hainan Island, for this week’s Haikou Championship.

News of his death stunned everybody who knew Arie, an international player who travelled all over the world playing golf. Out of deference and respect, Tour officials delayed the start of the Sanya Championship final round and then ultimately cancelled it after announcing his death.

“In the times I was with him or just around him, there was always a smile on his face — whether it was playing golf, him working out or just hanging out with friends. He always had a smile,” said Shotaro Ban, a Series member who was summoned to the scene early last Sunday morning and performed CPR on Arie before emergency personnel arrived.

“I think anyone who met him or knew him realised he was an extremely genuine person. He didn’t have that much to say, but he had a great heart, and his wife is just like him. Arie exemplified what it means to be a professional golfer, a husband and a friend in the true sense. I’m just devastated by this loss.”

The PGA Tour’s Todd Rhinehart recently returned to the US after living in Malaysia and serving as the CIMB Classic ED.

He said it was in 2015 when Arie became more than just an acquaintance.

That year, the Malaysian qualified for the tournament held in Kuala Lumpur. Arie was one of three Malaysians in the field that week, the most in the tournament’s history.

“He was 24 at the time and was anxious and nervous to be playing in his first PGA Tour event,” Rhinehart recalled. “Over the years, I saw and talked to him at TPC Kuala Lumpur, while he was practicing, as well as competing in our national qualifier for the CIMB Classic.

He was not only one of Malaysia’s most talented golfers, he was also an incredible young man who served as a passionate ambassador for junior golf in the country.

Arie got his start in the game, taking up golf eight years after he was born on Aug 21, 1990.

In 2006 and 2007, he finished runner- up at Faldo Series events in Malaysia, and as an 18-year-old, he won the Malaysian Amateur Stroke Play Championship. With those successes, he began to attract attention from US college coaches interested in securing his services.

Arie elected to attend and play golf at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. He earned his degree in management information systems and returned to Malaysia to embark on a professional golf career.

“His death has been tough on all of us. Golf being such a tight-knit community, it really is a shock what has happened,” said veteran Benjamin Lein, who became friends with Arie last year when he joined the Tour as a full member.

In February and back in California before the start of the PGA Tour Series- China season, Lein put together a foursome at Industry Hills Golf Club outside Los Angeles, inviting Arie to join him and fellow Series member Gunn Charoenkul, as well as China’s Haotong Li, for a friendly game.

“It just felt like no matter where in the world we were together, he was always the same, friendly, happy Arie,” Lein noted.

Li agreed with that assessment. The 2014 PGA Tour Series-China Player of the Year learned of Arie’s death, while preparing to play his final round at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.

“I can’t believe it. He was such a nice guy, and I feel like it’s so unfair,” said Li.

Like many golfers playing at the PGA Tour China-Series level, Arie had his ups and downs, the two missed cuts to begin the season were certainly disappointing. His best season as a professional came in 2015 when he won two Asian Developmental Tour tournaments — the PGM Sime Darby Harvard Championship and the ICTSI Eagle Ridge Invitational.

A shoulder injury from a motorcycle accident curtailed his momentum in 2016. He was out of action from March until mid-August that season, and he had since struggled to regain the form he showed in 2015.

PGA Tour Series-China will honour the life of Arie this week at the Haikou Championship, where the Tour will observe a moment of silence prior to the start of the tournament and players, staff, caddies and all others in attendance will receive an “ARIE” sticker honouring Arie’s life. — PGA Tour Series-China