Region’s top amateurs in Melaka for national amateur meet

Alor Gajah, Melaka; May 18: The top amateurs from across the Asia-Pacific region have made their way to the historic state of Melaka for the much-anticipated 109th Malaysian Amateur Open Golf Championship (MAO), which tees off tomorrow at the A’Famosa Golf Resort (below) .

Organized by the Malaysian Golf Association (MGA),the championship will see participants from 15 countries including Australia, Bangladesh, Guam, Hong Kong, India, Korea, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Laos and host Malaysia.

Last edition’s champions Mhark Fernando of The Philippines and Thai Thidapa Suwannapura will not be defending the men’s and ladies’ titles respectively, having both joined the professional ranks.

Leading the foreign onslaught is 2008 champion Koh Deng Shan of Singapore, who will attempt to take the Warren Shield across the Causeway once again while youngster Jobim Carlos, who captured the Sabah Amateur Open crown last month, will lead the strong Filipino challenge.

A total of 70 Malaysians (47 men and 23 ladies) have earned their berths to contest the nation’s oldest golf championship. Except for national players who qualified automatically, the other local hopes proved their worthiness based on their impressive performances during the qualifying rounds – the Malaysian Amateur Closed, Sabah Amateur Open and Sarawak Amateur Open.

Having come close to ending a 13-year wait for a local champion last year, the men’s team spearheaded by the long-hitting Gavin Kyle Green (pic left) and Kenneth De Silva will hope that the familiarity of the course and weather will play in their favour during the four-day tournament.

The 18-year-old Gavin has looked sharp with victories at the Kuala Lumpur Amateur Open and a third consecutive Malaysian Amateur Closed title in April while fellow stablemate Kenneth also has two local titles to his name this year, having won the Selangor Amateur Open and captaining the City boys to Etiqa Malaysia Cup success in March.

In the absence of the nation’s leading lady amateur Kelly Tan and Ainil Johani Abu Bakar, who is now a professional,the Malaysian lasses in the field will have to bring their A-games if they are to cause ripples against strong opposition from Thailand and favourites The Philippines. Isza Fariza Ismail (pic right), Iman Ahmad Nordin and Nur Durriyah Damian are among the names to be watched out for.

Tournament director Dato’ Tan Yan Fatt expressed his hope that come Sunday, a Malaysian will stand tall over their peers from the region.

“It has been a long while since we’ve had a Malaysian name engraved on the Warren Shield. There was Sufian Tan in 1985, then R. Natchimutchu in 1997 and of course, last year’s near miss when Mohd Iylia Jamil finished runner-up to Fernando,” said Tan, who is also the MGA’s Competition & Rules Sub-Committee deputy chairman.

Taking centerstage this week is the sprawling  A’Famosa Golf Resort,which will also host the MGA’s annual general meeting and biennial elections on the sidelines on Sunday. The staff at the award-winning resort have been working around the clock to ensure that the layout is ready to challenge the region’s top amateurs.

“It is an honour for us to be given the opportunity to host the MAO for the first time,” said the resort’s chief operating officer Julian Lau Joo Liang.“We started priming the 6,397-metre, par-72 combination of Rocky and Palm Courses since late 2010 to ensure it is in tip-top condition, befitting the stature of the tournament.”

The strong field at the MAO is testament for its long-standing reputation as a fertile ground in producing top players. Past champions include Asian Tour luminaries such as Andrew Dodt of Australia, Singapore’s Mardan Mamat, Filipino Juvic Pagunsan and India’s Shiv Kapur.

The event will for the sixth year running, award World Amateur Golf Ranking points to the top finishers.