The sky was gloomy but Mardan Mamat was not about to let the morning shower dampen his spirits.
Not on his 50th birthday anyway.
"I was born on Oct 31 in 1967, and I went out there and shot a 67. How befitting," quipped Singapore's top-ranked golfer as he met The Straits Times for an interview after the first round of the SPGA President Cup Invitational at Warren Golf and Country Club on Tuesday.
For someone who has amassed almost US$2.6 million (S$3.54 million) in career earnings, 409 starts and five wins on the Asian Tour - the biggest was the 2006 Osim Singapore Masters that was co-sanctioned with the European Tour - 2017 has been a below-par year by his high standards.
He is languishing in 107th place on the Asian Tour Order of Merit with earnings of only US$14,313 from 17 events. Last week, he finished joint-49th at the Indonesia Open and took home US$1,290. Despite his struggles, Mardan said he has lost none of his competitiveness and fighting spirit and warned his critics not to write him off.
"I'm playing in the Resorts World Manila Masters next week. I won there in 2014, and I can win it again. I can still produce the shots so why not?" said the 23-year veteran, who attributed his struggles to lower levels of power and fitness due to age compared to his younger rivals.
"I know I'm good at handling pressure - four of my five Asian Tour wins were wire-to-wire victories. And if (Thai) Prayad Marksaeng can win this year's SMBC Singapore Open a week before he turned 51, I can prove some people wrong too."
In the Official World Golf Ranking, Mardan is the top-ranked Singaporean golfer at 921st. Johnson Poh is the only other Singaporean in the top 1,000 at 960th.
Asked why no local professional golfer has managed to surpass him as the Republic's top golfer, he choked back tears and said: "Whatever I wanted to do, I gave 100 per cent. Even at 50, I'm still very hungry for success.
"I'm not sure how hungry some of the youngsters are. You have to work so hard that you can taste your sweat. That's how I achieved what I have and you can feel the satisfaction."
The father of five, however, believes Singapore golf is on the right track after the men's team of Gregory Foo, Joshua Shou, Marc Ong and Joshua Ho ended a 28-year drought to win the SEA Games gold in Kuala Lumpur in August. He is particularly impressed with Foo, whom he believes has the right game, character and work ethic.
"That team showed their talent to win gold. But as some of them turn pro, they will find out the difference from the amateur game as they will have to worry about expenses for flights, accommodation and meals," said Mardan, who qualified for the British Open in 1997, 2005 and 2012.
"They will have to think how far they want to go and back that up with hard work and perseverance.
" I hope these youngsters can continue to work hard and surpass my success one day."
Unlike many young golfers these days, Mardan grew up in a humble background - his father worked as a gardener to make ends meet.
As a kid, the fifth of eight siblings would follow his grandmother to Jurong Country Club (JCC) to sell kueh and curry puffs. "Such a small ball, a course that looked so far and wide, and a hole so small, what an interesting game," he marvelled at the game of golf then.
When he was nine, encouraged by the club's caddie masters, Mardan caddied for the first time, an experience he still remembers vividly.
"It was a big Caucasian and the golf bag was probably bigger than me. He asked, 'Are you going to carry the bag, son?'," recalled Mardan with a smile. "I said, 'No, I will pull it with a trolley'.
"After that, I told myself I want to be a top professional golfer. That was a mistake I made - I didn't tell myself I want to be the best professional golfer in the world."
While his Asian Tour career earnings - only 11 golfers have accumulated more - should help him retain his card for a few more years, he has also set sights on the major senior tours. He has a one-year exemption on the European Senior Tour and if there are keen sponsors, he would try and qualify for the Japan PGA Senior Tour and the US PGA Tour Champions.
"At 50, the body says 'no' but you love the game so much that you keep forcing yourself," said Mardan, who may set up a golf academy when he retires. "I have remained competitive for the past three years and I believe I still have the game to bring to the senior tours.
"I would like to play for another five more years and when I'm 55, I will see if I can play for a couple more years before retiring. Thirty years as a pro would be a good milestone."