Mardan Mamat still the one we look to: Choo Tze Huang

Daniel Teo
Fit to Post Sports

Choo Tze Huang turned professional last year (Getty Images)

Singapore's Choo Tze Huang says that while an exciting new breed of young local golfers is on the rise, veteran Mardan Mamat remains the one they look up to.

Choo is among six local players -- Mardan, Lam Chih Bing, Lam Zhiqun, Quincy Quek, Koh Dengshan -- competing at the Barclays Singapore Open at Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong course from Thursday to Sunday.

There, they will rub shoulders with world number one Rory McIlroy, three-time winner Adam Scott as well as American star Phil Mickelson.

Choo, who was given a sponsor invite to the tournament after the withdrawal of Sweden's Peter Hanson, returns to the tournament as a professional after completing his golf scholarship at the University of Washington in September.

"I think times are changing. The younger generation of golfers are more educated now and most come from well-to-do backgrounds. But Mardan is still someone we all look up to," said the 25-year-old pro.

"He is like a mentor to all of us including myself. I go to him a lot to seek advice and tips on travelling and golf."

Mardan Mamat in action at the Ballantine's Championship (Getty Images)

Golf is considered a costly sport in Singapore and inspiring stories such as Mardan, who is 44, are hard to come by.

After all, Singapore's most successful golfer comes from a humble background and rose through the golf ranks as a part-time caddie, picking up balls he collected by diving into the course's ponds to practice with his six-iron club.

Today Mardan is the only Singaporean to have played in a Major championship (The Open in 1997) and to win a European Tour event (2006 OSIM Singapore Masters).

However, Choo believes it's still possible for an average Singaporean like himself to chase their golfing dreams — with a little help.

"Yes golf is an expensive sport and that does pose as a challenge for aspiring golfers who don't come from well-to-do backgrounds. I myself do not come from a very wealthy family but I was just lucky enough that my dad supported me all the way," he added.

"But hopefully things will change and there will be more support for the younger golfers who are not as financially well off but are very talented. They just need to be given the opportunity to prove themselves and to gain exposure overseas. This will help give them confidence to compete with players from outside Singapore," he said.

"More support from the government would be good. There is support from them but hopefully golf can one day be seen as a national sport," he added.

Asked who his favourite golfer is and who he thinks is the best player in the world now, he said, "Ernie Els is my favourite player. I really admire him because he's not only a great player but he has great personality and is very approachable and down-to-earth.

"But the best player currently has to be Tiger Woods, even though Rory is number one now. Tiger is just different from the rest of the players. He makes golf look so easy — like how Roger Federer makes tennis look effortless."

On his targets for the Barclays Singapore Open, Choo said, "Obviously my target is to make the weekend and do as well as I can. Now I'm just focusing on staying calm and sticking to my game plan.

"I want to play some smart golf and not get ahead of myself. So hopefully that will be good enough."

Meanwhile Mardan believes the good blend of experience and youth will ensure the Singapore flag flies high this week.

"It's good to see the youngsters coming up. They are young and I think Murugiah (President of the SPGA) has done a good job in helping our local players and giving them a chance to play at their National Open," said Mardan.

"I've been looking forward to play in this event. It is one of the biggest events in Asia and it's important to play well this week.

"I was really fortunate to be able to win at home in 2006. I believe if you can do it once, you can do it twice. So we shall see how it goes this week," added the local ace.