Kuala Lumpur: Captain Chong Chee Ming spearheaded a strong line-up of Malaysian professionals into the Lions’ den on Tuesday, hoping to return as the inaugural winners of the Prudential Causeway Trophy.
Chong, who was the initial vice-captain pick, was a natural choice for the steering role after Iain Steel was unable to travel back in time from his United States base.
He will not only be responsible for galvanising the team as they take on a determined Lions team led by PGA of Singapore secretary Lip Ooi away from home but more importantly, putting together the right pairings for the foursomes and fourball matches, which may go along way in deciding the outcome of the tournament.
“I feel it is a proud occasion for the professional golf fraternities in both countries and on a personal note, it is a great honour to be handed the responsibility and trust to lead our boys into this maiden battle. I don’t think I ever envisaged that I would be captaining Malaysia in a Ryder Cup-styled tournament in my lifetime, so this is definitely something to cherish.
“It is the first time that such a tournament has been conceptualised in the region and I believe our team appreciates how much a victory means for the Malaysian golfing fraternity, given the traditional sporting rivalry that exists between Singapore and us,” said Chong, who has picked fellow teaching professional V. Arumugam as his trusty lieutenant.
A great fan of the hype and drama of the Ryder Cup, Chong admits that he will play an important role in inspiring the team and urging them on to victory at the ferocious World Classic course of Laguna National Golf & Country Club.
“Having watched some of the greatest Ryder Cup captains in action, I think my role is well-defined. The last few weeks has really been about drumming up the players’ enthusiasm and working on getting that team spirit going. In the run-up to the tournament, Aru and I are focused on drawing up the right strategies for each of the three days and keeping the boys motivated.
“Based on gut feelings and the players’ form in recent weeks, we have a list of potential pairings for Friday’s foursomes as well as Saturday’s fourballs but we will only finalise things once the players have had chance to go out on the course and we hear their feedback,” he noted.
“But come Friday, I’m going to be the chief motivator out there, inspiring the boys to rake up the early points and helping them deal with ups-and-downs, pressure and expectations building up to Sunday’s all-important singles match-ups,” added Chong, who stressed that the Malaysians had to acclimatise quickly to the course, dubbed the ‘Remarkable One‘ by designer Andy Dye.
While noting that they are some injury concerns, Chong was pleased with the Malaysian line-up which consist of a healthy mix of veterans, seasoned competitors as well as a couple of young guns.
“It’s a great bunch of guys to work with. In Danny [Chia], we have a natural leader on the golf course, Nicholas [Fung] is a proven matchplay winner and players like S. Murthy, S. Sivachandhran, Shaaban Hussin and R. Nachimuthu are experienced warhorses that can grind out a result for the team. I’m expecting the younger guys like Akhmal [Tarmizee Nazari], [Mohd] Rizal [Amin] and Anis [Helmi Hassan] to rise to the challenge and ride on their consistent scoring form.”
Chong believes that the combination of individual depth and strong team spirit will see the Malaysians returning to Kuala Lumpur with the trophy.
“We know that Singapore have home advantage as their players know the ins-and-outs of the golf course and they have their own heavyweights in Mardan Mamat and Lam Chih Bing. I don’t want to sound over-confident but we are a closely-knit unit; the boys are really up for the challenge and I believe we have the ammunition to get the job done,” shared the gutsy captain.
The Malaysian team received a pat on their back on Monday when Youth & Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin handed over the symbolic Jalur Gemilang to the team in Putrajaya. Khairy also expressed the government’s best wishes and support, noting that the whole country will be rooting for team to capture the Causeway Trophy.