Golf: Lee Kuan Yew fan Mickelson can't wait to return to S'pore as LIV tour makes a stop in 2023

Phil Mickelson studies the green on the first hole, during the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok tournament, on Oct 7, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BANGKOK - Singapore's former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew has an unlikely fan in American golfer Phil Mickelson.

His admiration for the late Mr Lee, whom he described as "one of the greatest leaders", echoes his affection for the Republic, where the veteran has played a number of times, most recently at the Singapore Open in 2012.

The local fan favourite will be back in town soon when the LIV Golf series makes its Singapore debut at the Sentosa Golf Club in the 2023 season.

LIV Golf chief executive officer Greg Norman confirmed on Friday that the series' second season will include stops in Australia and Singapore, though he declined to reveal the dates or details of the events.

When announced after the Oct 28-30 LIV Golf Team Championships in Miami, the Singapore event will be the richest golf tournament ever held in the Republic, topping the US$6 million (S$8.6 million) Barclays Singapore Open from 2010 to 2012. LIV’s seven-event calendar for 2022 boasts a prize purse of US$25 million each, with the eighth and season-ending team championship in Miami offering US$50 million.

According to media reports, the 2023 season will have 14 events and golfers will play for US$405 million – US$150 million more than 2022.

When asked in an interview at the LIV Golf Invitational Bangkok if the series would be in Singapore in 2023, Norman said: "Singapore, yes. Sentosa, yes. When I went there to look at the golf course, it was like a fantastic reception from the members when I walked onto that golf course, saying 'thank you, thank you'."

Mickelson, 52, a six-time Major winner, said: "I really enjoyed the opportunity to play there. I thought Sentosa was a great golf course to host a world-class event, and I thought it was a very fascinating country… I've enjoyed the time that I've been there.

"I think Lee Kuan Yew is one of the greatest leaders, and the way he started that country and developed it, I thought he's done some really great things where you don't have any natural resources, to create one of the greatest harbours, to have it be such a clean city and to create such wealth for all of their citizens," added the former world No. 2, who was overheard telling a foreign journalist that Mr Lee had once called air-conditioning the greatest invention of the century.

Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri added: "I'm so excited, I love Sentosa and I have so many friends there. Everything about Asia feels like coming back home. It's fantastic, the more we come back here, the more people get exposed to this level of golf."

Indian golfer Anirban Lahiri tkes part in a press conference ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational tournament in Bangkok. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Singaporean golfer Abdul Hadi Uda Thith, 27, cannot wait for the event to make its debut at the Sentosa Golf Club.

"I'm really excited LIV Golf is coming to Singapore. The event is run differently than the regular tournaments, it's exciting and I'm looking forward to watching it," he told ST.

While noting that it was unlikely that Singapore's professional golfers would get a spot in the "very limited field", he added: "It's great for the golfing scene in Singapore. I hope that this event will draw a massive crowd and I think it will appeal to the younger and newer golfers."

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