SINGAPORE - Singapore will need its next generation of golfers to step up ahead of next year's SEA Games in the Philippines, with the national team losing their top two players Gregory Foo and Abdul Hadi to the professional ranks this week.
Both played in August's Asian Games and were the top local finishers in last week's Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) held at the Sentosa Golf Club.
Singapore are the defending SEA Games team champions but, of the quartet of Foo, Marc Ong, Joshua Shou and Joshua Ho, who won the sport's first gold in 28 years last August, only Ho has yet to turn pro.
The departures have left the Singapore Golf Association (SGA) with big holes to fill, admitted the association's high performance manager Jerome Ng.
"Whether or not we have found another Gregory Foo or Abdul Hadi in terms of skills - that is a big question we're asking ourselves," said Ng, himself a former national golfer and also the SGA's general manager. "At the same time, it's an opportunity for all our other guys to step up knowing that there are spots available on the team."
Ng singled out the US-based duo of Wong Qi Wen and James Leow, both 22, as the current front runners for slots in the Games team.
Neither played in the AAC owing to their college commitments at Duke University and Arizona State University respectively. "The one thing that stood out for Gregory and Hadi was their work ethic. I see the same in Qi Wen and James and that's the reason they're our next best players now," said Ng.
Ho, Low Wee Jin and Lucius Toh are the other candidates likely to be nominated for the Games. All three are also slated to represent Singapore at the Putra Cup in December.
Toh finished tied 58th at the AAC on 13-over 293 (80-66-70-77) and called the AAC and Putra Cup the biggest competitions of his life.
"There's a bit of pressure for sure now moving into the national team, but I feel it's about time for me to step up after completing my national service last year," said the 21-year-old.
When asked what advice he had for his erstwhile national team-mates, Foo said: "The main thing is to keep the good work ethic going and push themselves harder.
"The competition isn't going to get any easier so if they want to retain the SEA Games gold, they have to step up. I'm confident they will because they're great players."
Foo, 25, and Hadi, 23, played their first professional event on Thursday (Oct 11) at the Asian Tour's US$300,000 (S$414,000) Chief of Naval Staff Open Golf Championship in Karachi, Pakistan.
Foo battled to a one-over 73 to lie joint-43rd while Hadi was tied 62nd with a 74. Koh Dengshan (70) is the top Singapore performer while Ong, veteran Mardan Mamat and Choo Tze Huang all shot 74s.