Golf: Koh qualifies despite wobble

A two-shot victory in the two-day local qualifying tournament has given Koh Sock Hwee, who turns pro later this month, a chance to compete for prize money at the HSBC Women's Champions.
A two-shot victory in the two-day local qualifying tournament has given Koh Sock Hwee, who turns pro later this month, a chance to compete for prize money at the HSBC Women's Champions.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Third outing at HSBC Women's Champions will help in financing her rookie pro season

A disastrous triple-bogey seven on the 16th hole at Sentosa Golf Club's Serapong Course cost Koh Sock Hwee an individual silver medal at last year's SEA Games.

And an identical score on the same green almost wrecked her chances of glory at the HSBC Women's Champions local qualifying event yesterday.

What was a comfortable seven-stroke lead over nearest challenger Amanda Tan, who parred the 372m par-four 16th, was cut to four and Koh was badly shaken.

But the 26-year-old recovered to make par on the remaining two holes and closed with a six-over 78 for a 152 total to secure her spot at the elite LPGA Tour tournament, to be held on the same course from March 3-6.

She finished two shots clear of Amanda, 16, who triumphed in the 2014 edition of the qualifier. The schoolgirl birdied three of her final four holes for a 76 and 154 total and was second in the 11-woman field.

Said a relieved Koh afterwards: "I was really nervous today as I haven't competed in three months, and it's easy to get nervous when it means so much to you."

This will be her third outing at the US$1.5 million (S$2.15 million), 63- woman invitational. In 2012, she finished 60th. Last year, she was 63rd (and last). Joey Poh and Christabel Goh are the only other local golfers with multiple appearances.

The HSBC event will also be a milestone for Koh, as she will join the paid ranks later this month and aspires to be a full-time touring pro.

Financial issues have cropped up though. She was unsuccessful last year in her attempts to clear all three stages of the US-based LPGA Tour qualifying school, and used up all her savings in the process.

She estimated that it will cost around $88,000 to fund her rookie season - which includes a second stab at Q school and competing in regional tournaments - and is searching for sponsors to help.

The good thing is that, once she relinquishes her amateur status, she will be eligible for prize money at the HSBC Women's Champions, which will feature the likes of world No. 1 Lydia Ko and defending champion, world No. 2 Park In Bee.

South Korean Mi Jung Hur finished last in last year's tournament and still earned US$3,502, thanks to the no-cut format.

Said Koh, who gives maths tuition to secondary school students for extra income: "The aim is to finish as high as I can and earn some money to pay for my expenses. It is a nice feeling to have the whole nation cheer you on while you play, so I'm really looking forward to it."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'Koh qualifies despite wobble'. Print Edition | Subscribe