Golf: Singapore's US-based national players find form ahead of SEA Games

SINGAPORE – Hours before her third round in the NCAA Women’s Championship at the Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Arizona, Singaporean golfer Ashley Menne was up all night in the bathroom as she was down with stomach flu.

“It was so bad I didn’t think I would be able to play,” said the 19-year-old Arizona State University freshman of her May 23 outing in the National Collegiate Athletic Association competition.

But the plucky teenager decided to persevere and “try to survive the day”.

She did way better than that to card a blistering seven-under 65, which matched the programme record set by retired Major winner Grace Park in 1998. Menne ultimately finished fourth in the individual event with a three-under 285 total, five strokes behind winner Rachel Heck from Stanford.

Menne, who was born to an American father and Singaporean mother and moved to the United States when she was 10, told The Straits Times: “I think I was so focused on how bad I was feeling that I was just swinging freely. I played the last three days of the tournament with nausea, chills and a bad stomach.

“It was definitely not the experience I was expecting but I’m glad everything turned out for the best, and overall my first NCAA experience was amazing even though my team didn’t advance to the match-play semi-finals.”

Menne’s performance in the States was followed by the fine exploits of fellow national golfers Nicklaus Chiam and James Leow, who finished tied-second and tied-fifth respectively at the Palo Verde Amateur event at the Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Arizona on May 26.

Chiam finished four shots behind winner Nate Vontz, who was 19-under 197 after three rounds, while Leow ended his campaign 11 under.

Chiam, a 25-year-old Washington State University graduate who won a men’s team silver at the 2019 SEA Games, said: “I recently had help from national coach Matt Ballard to improve my ball striking and help me commit better to shots, which have resulted in lower scores.

“My short game also improved a lot in 2020 because I was able to incorporate different types of shots around the green. I think my mentality of keeping things simple, focusing on one shot at a time, really helped as well.”

Singapore Golf Association (SGA) high performance manager Joshua Ho felt that the ongoing communication between Ballard and its US-based players through technological tools like coaching apps is paying off.

He said: “We monitor their training and provide valuable technical assistance virtually. We also work closely with them to select and fund (their participation in) tournaments in order to optimise performance and provide the required opportunities for their development.

“It is an encouraging start to the summer season for this group of potential SEA Games representatives.”

It was also an encouraging return to the game for 2019 SEA Games men’s singles champion Leow, five months after undergoing hip surgery.

Singapore national golfer Nicklaus Chiam. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SINGAPORE GOLF ASSOCIATION

The 24-year-old Arizona State University undergraduate said: “I was lowering my expectations and trying to enjoy my golf round without putting pressure on myself, knowing that I have put in the work for both practice and recovery.

“I know what my golf game is capable of. These past couple of months and upcoming summer schedule will help to get me back into things mentally, physically and technically.”

The trio are hoping to keep up their form when the Hanoi SEA Games swing around from Nov 21-Dec 2.

Menne said: “This NCAA experience has prepared me for the SEA Games as the format is almost exactly the same with team strokeplay and then matchplay. Furthermore, playing against the best amateurs in the world here at the NCAA has shown me what I am capable of and how I stack up against the best.”

Vernon Khoo, chairman of the SGA’s training and development committee, was delighted with the “brilliant performances” ahead of the SEA Games

He said: “It validates the relentless efforts that SGA has provided in developing the talent of our young golfers over the years. We have a pool of young and talented golfers under our care and they have a bright future ahead of them.”

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