SEA GAMES 2019 Golfers fly Singapore flag high
09 December 2019
Call it a draw as Singapore were narrowly edged by Thailand in the golf men’s team competition at the 30th Southeast Asian Games. While Thailand came away with gold after defeating Singapore 2-1 in the men’s team matchplay final on Sunday (8 Dec), Singapore can be suitably proud that in the individual competition, it was a Singaporean that held two Thai players at bay when James Leow ended a drought running back 30 years.
(L-R) James Leow, Low Wee Jin, Hiroshi Tai and Nicklaus Chiam (Photo credit: SNOC)
Leow was again in hot form at the Luisita Golf & Country Club as he handed Vanchai Luangnitikul a 5&4 lesson playing in the third slot. Nicklaus Chiam played the opening match and lost 3&2 to Tanapat Pichaikool.
The tie hung on the match between Hiroshi Tai and Nopparat Panichpol, which saw the Singapore 2-down going to the 15th hole. Tai lost that hole to leave himself an almighty task of winning the remaining three to force a playoff.
Despite an unfavourable lie off his tee shot at the 16th, Tai was able to play out for a birdie to narrow the score. At the penultimate hole, a par 3, both players found the green, and Nopparat missed his birdie attempt from a long distance. Tai needed to make a 30-foot putt to force the match to the final hole but missed. Putting for par, Nopparat was flawless, triggering scenes of joy from the Thai team and supporters.
Individual gold medallist James Leow stayed hot all week (Photo credit: SportSG)
Singapore coach Matthew Ballard hailed his players, particularly 17-year-old Tai for his heroics the previous day in the semi-final against Indonesia. That was after Singapore had beaten Brunei in the 2.5-0.5 in the opening team match, with Leow surprisingly drawing his match.
“We had an amazing day Saturday (7 Dec) to get ourselves into this position to have a chance to win the gold medal,” said Singapore coach Matthew Ballard. “I think if you told us that we’ll be in the gold medal match when we're on our flight over here, we would have taken it for sure.”
Recalling Saturday’s play, Ballard said: “We probably weren't going to play Hiroshi at all throughout the 36 holes (first round and semi-finals). How it panned out in the morning, James, after the winning gold medal, was a little flat in the matchplay.
“So, we decided to rest him in the afternoon and give Hiroshi a game. He’s our youngest player, he's about to go into national service in a couple of weeks. He played fantastic in the matchplay and gave us an amazing victory.”
Indeed, Tai had enjoyed a 3&2 win over Indonesia’s Jonathan Wijono while Nicklaus Chiam squared his match and Low Wee Jin lost his 1-down for the overall scores to be tied 1.5-1.5, prompting a single hole playoff.
Hiroshi Tai played with a maturity beyond his young age (Photo credit: SNOC)
Continued Ballard: “We needed to choose somebody for a playoff and my instinct was to choose the gold medallist James. But because he sat out in the afternoon, he wasn't warmed up. We still chose him and he went to go warm up on the driving range. But the driving range was closed and we were running out of light. He came back and he said I can't warm up.
“So, I had to turn to the three other guys – Low Wee Jin had just lost his last four holes to lose his match. He wasn't in a good frame of mind, and didn't look ready to go. Nicholas also did something similar, didn't quite finish his round off. Hiroshi had just won, he was pumped, he looked straight at me and said ‘Coach, I'm ready.’
“We just all agreed and said okay, we send the young boy out. He went out and played an amazing par-4 18th. He played the perfect hole – great drive, great shot next to the flag, easy birdie. It was just an amazing end right at the fading darkness of the day which gave us a chance to play today.
(L-R) National coach Matthew Ballard, high performance manager Joshua Ho, Hiroshi Tai, Low Wee Jin, Nicklaus Chiam and James Leow (Photo credit: SNOC)
“So, I’m really proud of him., he showed amazing composure for his age.”
Summing up Team Singapore’s golf campaign where the men’s team came back with a gold and a silver, Ballard said: “I think no one gave us much of a chance leading into the event. We had four players that haven't played in this event before but in my eyes, they are very, very worthy competitors and were very competitive all week.
“James winning the gold individual is a fantastic achievement and certainly no surprise to any of our team. I’m very proud of all them. I think deep down they're hurting right now but I'm pretty sure when we jump on the plane and head back to Singapore, there’s going to be a lot of people proud of them, me included. Absolutely a proud achievement for a small little nation.”