BEN LEONG

LEONG AND CHIA HOPE TO RAISE LOCAL CHEER AT CIMB CLASSIC

BEN LEONG

BEN LEONG

Malaysia’s Ben Leong reckons he has put in the best preparation for his debut at the US$7 million CIMB Classic which starts on Thursday.

“Just light practice and the rest was just doing my laundry, paying bills because I was away for three weeks and had catch-up to do. I think it is a good distraction. Just don’t overthink my golf game, which I think was the problem before. I’m fresher mentally,” said the 29-year-old.

Leong certainly had problems to deal with in recent years. After winning his maiden Asian Tour title in 2008, a back injury in 2012 derailed his burgeoning career and laid him off for over a year and a half.

He recovered sufficiently to make a return last year and two wins on the domestic circuit this season and a triumph at the SapuraKencana National Qualifier, which earned him a spot in the star-studded CIMB Classic, showed Leong is back on track to rebuild his career.

While the CIMB Classic, sanctioned by the PGA TOUR and Asian Tour, will be his biggest tournament yet of his career, the quietly spoken Malaysian is not putting any pressure on himself.

“I just want to go out there and have fun. No expectation because it’s my first time on the PGA TOUR. You know, it’s a whole new experience, and I will just take whatever comes, one shot at a time,” said Leong.

“It means a lot. It’s a dream come true, definitely, and I’m looking forward to the whole week.”

These days, Leong restricts himself to light routines on the golf course. He doesn’t bash golf ball after golf ball at the range like he used to and would only play 18 holes a day and work at his short game, if at all.

“I wouldn’t say 100 percent,” said Leong of his back. “There’s still phobia, especially my first five shots. I don’t go at it just like before. It changed the way I practice. Now it’s just 18 holes because on the golf course I can hit one shot and I start walking to my second shot. It kind of gives my back some time to recover.

“I guess things happen for a reason. It made me grow up in a way, mature in a way that golf doesn’t have a specific way to practice. Before, you start listening to people saying, ‘oh, you know, this professional, he spends six, seven hours on the range, and look, he’s up there’. But golf is not like that. It’s not quantity, it’s quality.”

Chia, who secured his second Asian Tour victory at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters earlier this month to end a 13-year drought, will be hoping to improve on his tied 13thfinish at the CIMB Classic achieved in 2011.

He reckons the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West course will yield some low scoring this week. “I think the rough is a bit shorter, and the condition of the golf course is great. You know, I think it’s going to be a great scoring week,” said Chia, who is seventh on the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit.

He was happy to return into the Asian Tour’s winner’s circle, becoming the first Malaysian to hold multiple victories on the region’s premier Tour. “Not really surprised with the win,” he said. “I was playing well this year. I thought the win would come sooner or later, and I’m very pleased with what I’ve achieved.”

Like Leong, Chia has also endured career-threatening injuries in recent times and said the episode has made him change his outlook in golf.

“I think my character is a bit different now. I kind of enjoy the game a bit more and I’m more relaxed about it. It’s not so much of what I’m trying to achieve and what I’m trying to prove, it’s more like I just go out there and play golf,” said Chia.

With his current top-10 ranking on the Asian Tour, Chia, who was previously exempt as the highest ranked Malaysian in the world ranking, qualified automatically for the CIMB Classic which allowed countryman Arie Irawan to make it an all-time high of three Malaysians in the prestigious event.

“I think it’s great. I mean, I would love to see even more Malaysians get in. Hopefully next year more Malaysians will get in, not through the invite but through the Asian Tour ranking or the world ranking,” he said.

He added his other goal now was to qualify for the EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM in January where Asia will face off with Europe.

“Definitely that would be one of the things that I’m looking at, but I’m trying to do things one step at a time. I think as long as I keep doing what I’m doing now and play well, I think things like that will come in automatically,” he said.

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