Golf: Olympics on Mardan's radar

Mardan Mamat won US$177,117 last season to finish 17th on the Asian Tour's Order of Merit, the seventh time in the past 12 seasons that he has cracked the list of top-20 earners.
Mardan Mamat won US$177,117 last season to finish 17th on the Asian Tour's Order of Merit, the seventh time in the past 12 seasons that he has cracked the list of top-20 earners.PHOTO: ASIAN TOUR

Veteran S'pore golfer's New Year target is to take part in Rio as sport returns to the Games

With five Asian Tour titles and more than US$2.1 million (S$2.96 million) in prize money earned, there is little that Mardan Mamat has not accomplished in a career that has spanned over two decades.

But, as the veteran golfer began pre-season training on Wednesday after a 10-day break, the hunger to push himself remains as he prepares for his next sporting adventure - the Olympics in Rio.

The top 60 players on the International Golf Federation's (IGF) Olympic Ranking are guaranteed a spot at the Summer Games in August, when the sport returns to the Olympics after a 112-year absence.

The 48-year-old Singaporean was inside the cut from June to November but dropped out in the latest standings for last month.

Nevertheless, his chances of becoming the Republic's first Olympic golfer remain high. Under the qualification system which is calculated based on world ranking points, national Olympic committees are limited to two entries each - and up to four if all are in the top 15 of the IGF's Olympic Ranking. This ensures less-established golfing countries are represented.

  • Golfers' road to Rio

  • The top 60 of the International Golf Federation's Olympic Ranking, which is based on world ranking points, qualify for the Olympics.

    Each National Olympic Committee can send up to two players, or a maximum of four if all are in the top 15 of the IGF's list.

    Both the men's and women's field will have 60 players, with one reserved for the host nation. The window closes on July 11.

Mardan is currently the first alternate should any of 19 players fall out from the current top-60 list.

The selection window closes on July 11, sufficient time to improve on his world No. 329 ranking and boost his hopes of featuring in the Aug 11-14 strokeplay tournament, although the reverse could also happen if he does not perform well.

"That's my main target for the new season," said Mardan, who has played in three British Opens and multiple World Cups. "I've played a lot of high-level tournaments and to be part of the Olympics would be very special.

"It would be history not just for myself but also for Singapore. I want to show the rest of the country that golf in Singapore still exists, that golf deserves to be noticed by the sports council (now known as Sport Singapore)."

His victory in May's Bangladesh Open was his third Asian Tour triumph since turning 44, indicative of continued excellence even as he approaches his twilight years.

Said Mardan, who in 2013 was ranked 105th on the Tour in driving distance but was 180th last term: "I've done this for a long time and I still have what it takes to win. Maybe not with strength but with the experience I've collected."

He pocketed US$177,117 (S$249,304) from the last campaign to finish 17th on the Asian Tour's Order of Merit, the seventh time in the past 12 seasons he has cracked the list of top-20 earners.

His strong work ethic and meticulous fitness regimen, which includes yoga at the crack of dawn, have helped to delay the effects of ageing but the years on the pro circuit have taken a toll on his body.

The second half of last year was a struggle for Mardan, who suffered a right shoulder injury. He missed the cut in seven of his final 13 tournaments. A tied-16th placing at last month's Philippine Open was his highest finish since Dhaka.

He said: "The injury bothered me for several months. Physically of course but also mentally as I had to manage the pain and sometimes hold back when I swung.

"But it's much better now and I'm almost 100 per cent."

He opens his season at this week's US$100,000 Sabah Masters, where he is the defending champion of the Asean PGA Tour event, before turning his sights to the US$1 million SMBC Singapore Open - headlined by world No. 1 Jordan Spieth - later this month.

Mardan intends to play in the next seven Asian Tour tournaments - in seven countries - across the subsequent 15 weeks, a punishing schedule but necessary to give himself ample opportunities to move up the world rankings and secure that coveted Olympic spot.

"It's a lot of travelling and golf but I'll do whatever it takes to try and get myself into the Olympics," said Mardan, whose career high was world No. 193 in 2011. "I'm very close to achieving this new dream of representing my country at the Olympics."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'OLYMPICS ON MARDAN'S RADAR'. Print Edition | Subscribe