August winner: Marc Ong

ST Star of the Month: Marc Ong is putting his mind to the challenge

ST sports editor Lee Yulin presenting the ST Star of the Month award to Marc Ong. The 21-year-old golfer sank the winning birdie putt on the third play-off hole that secured the SEA Games men's team gold for Singapore.
ST sports editor Lee Yulin presenting the ST Star of the Month award to Marc Ong. The 21-year-old golfer sank the winning birdie putt on the third play-off hole that secured the SEA Games men's team gold for Singapore.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Golfer, 21, looking forward to turning professional after his Kuala Lumpur Games heroics

After narrowly missing out on SEA Games gold last month in the individual event, golfer Marc Ong sat in the changing room alone, pondering what could have been.

He had finished one stroke behind winner Kosuke Hamamoto of Thailand, the silver medal offering little comfort after coming so close to ending Singapore's 28-year wait for a Games title in the sport.

Stung by the disappointment, Ong - whose teammates and sports psychologist took turns to comfort him - eventually left the room at The Mines Resort and Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur with renewed determination for the team event.

The 21-year-old embodied that resolve with the winning birdie putt on the third play-off hole that secured a stunning victory for Singapore's men's team over favourites Thailand.

It meant that Ong and team-mates Gregory Foo, Joshua Shou and Joshua Ho were Games champions, the country's first since Samson Gimson won the individual title in 1989.

Ong's gritty performance earned him The Straits Times Star of the Month award for August. The award is an extension of ST's Athlete of the Year award, launched in 2008. Both awards are backed by F&N's 100Plus.

HOMING IN ON HISTORY

I couldn't believe everything was in my hands to decide who wins the gold medal. But... I knew that... I could bring it home.

MARC ONG, golfer, on his chance to help Singapore to a SEA Games golf gold medal for the first time since 1989.

Being nominated to face Kammalas Namuangruk in the play-off was a shock, Ong recalled, but it was also the confidence boost he needed to raise his game and create history.

He said: "I couldn't believe everything was in my hands to decide who wins the gold medal. But, after a while, I knew that if I kept to what I was doing, I could bring it home."

Team Singapore won 57 golds in Malaysia - their best away haul - and to single out one was always going to be tough but Ong was a deserving winner, said ST sports editor Lee Yulin.

"The resilience he showed in rebounding from his prior disappointment to thrive under pressure during the team event is admirable," she added.

It was Ong's fourth appearance at the biennial Games and likely his last.

He will play in next month's Hong Kong Open Amateur and Mid Amateur Championships and November's Asia-Pacific Team Championship in Malaysia before turning professional in January.

The Games' golf event is open only to amateurs.

Joining the paid ranks has been a dream since Ong, who picked up the game when he was 10 through his father Malcolm, was at the Singapore Sports School.

He said: "I just have to be mentally prepared for the possibility that things may not be as smooth as they were and it may be tough at the start, but it's still a new challenge ahead and I'm very excited."

He will carry with him the memory of being part of Singapore's sporting history.

Revealing that he still feels "like I can't believe I did that" when he watches replays of the play-off, he added: "I couldn't have won gold with a better group of guys, and I know this will last with us forever."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline 'Putting his mind to the challenge'. Print Edition | Subscribe