An ace — at long last!

Ahmad Sarji holds winning hands to help grow the PGM Tour to be a powerhouse it shows every sign of becoming

“I AM amazed I did it at 80++ years and to think I started golf in 1961”, is how Tun Ahmad Sarji Abdul Hamid described his hole-in-one achievement.

The closest he had ever come to was in Saujana Golf and Country Club, when his ball came to rest just three inches from the cup and it was a competition that had a car as prize.

As consolation, the organisers had given him two Michelin tyres.

This time at TPC Kuala Lumpur, he was playing with his son and two sons-in-law and found his mark on the par-3, 5th (145m), East Course, on March 3.

“I used a rescue club, it was a high shot and the ball landed on the green and disappeared. I didn’t see it going in, but it was my son, Ariff Tuah, who said excitedly ‘Abah (father), it’s in’.

“My first hole-in-one after 58 years of playing the game and I did it in front of my family members, credible witnesses (namely Datuk Zainal Amanshah of InvestKL Corp Sdn Bhd and Police commissioner Datuk Zamri Yahya.)”

In relating the feat, it came to the question, what role golf had played in his life?

“Put it this way,” said the Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) chairman. “First of all, I have a love for sports and golf, in particular, instilled in me many positives. It’s all about meritocracy, discipline. Meritocracy because if you are a good striker of the ball, in your long, short game and putting, success is assured.

“In other words, it requires rigorous practice, which I did in my younger days.” At his best, he was an 8-handicap.

“Playing golf also raises your competitive spirit. I love stroke play. It enhances your disciplinary values…must be on time, adhere to rules, it’s a great leveller, because there is a handicap system and I like that.

“It’s also an addictive sport. I am still playing. I’ve had my successes — winning monthly medals, the Consolation Cup at The Royal Selangor Golf Club and the Tunku Abdul Rahman Trophy at Kelab Golf Negara Subang.”

He loved the game because he had to strive to lower his handicap. “In that process, you try to improve by looking at every aspect of your game, whether stance and weight transfer are correct…it makes you think, pinpoint where you are going wrong…rhythm and all that to minimise your mistakes.”

That’s the best that one could do, because there was no perfect round or perfect score, as Ben Hogan (the American golf legend) had rightly pointed out.

“Study the science of the swing and you can analyse your game and that’s what coaches do.” He himself had never taken lessons from a coach, instead, he sought pointers from better players he used to meet at the driving range or putting green.

Age was preventing him these days from travelling to see the majors despite invitations. Television allowed him to watch them in the comfort of his home.

If he could live his life again, he wouldn’t want to be a professional golfer, but merely retrace his steps as an amateur, with a few modifications. “I wish I had gone to a professional coach, so that my handicap would have gone down to three or two, or even less, and enabled me to compete in top amateur opens.

In a Selangor Amateur Open, he had once shot a 75, or was it a 77?

His appointment as PGM chairman in 2010 and his track record since speaks for itself.

The predominant factor was his clarity of vision. When he had approached the government on the need for a golf Tour, he had emphasised the importance of it being run professionally.

Confidence in it would also come from results borne by smart partnerships, as success could not be achieved alone.

Institutional and personal relationships with the fraternity had to be established. The Asian Tour was the first partnership that added value. He had raised the entire money for Asian Development Tour events because it provided Official World Golf Ranking points that otherwise were not available for Malaysian players.

It was also a big plus for the Asian Tour and being the pioneer, he had secured a 50-50 partnership (Asian and local) in the number of players participating in such events.

In hosting the inaugural editions of the EurAsia Cup — the biennial Asia versus Europe matchplay series — he had gained another valuable partnership with the European Tour, as the PGM Tour had coordinated the series.

PGM had proven to be a reliable partner, able and willing to spare no effort and expense in seeing the Cup’s success.

As a result, PGM and its Tour had demonstrable success to show for its near 10-year existence so far. For it to go further, the commercialisation of the Tour was necessary to raise the level of participation and attraction of the tournaments.

Prize money had to be increased and that called for more sponsors answering the clarion call. It’s about branding.

The record so far bodes well for the cause, with Ahmad Sarji showing no signs of slowing down. Will he be able to pull off another ace, one that will ensure the PGM and its Tour grows bigger and better? It’s a question he can be expected to answer sooner, rather than later.