SINGAPORE - Former Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han, credited for shaping golf in the region, died on Saturday (Feb 19). He was 61.
The continent's governing body said on Monday that he died in Singapore due to complications from cancer treatment and extended its condolences to Han's family. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.
Its commissioner & chief executive Cho Minn Thant said: "Asian golf has lost one of its greatest players, its greatest personalities, and its greatest leaders."
Han turned professional in 1980 and won 12 tournaments, including the 1994 Singapore Open and 1999 Volvo China Open. He also topped the Asian Tour's Order of Merit in 1999 and has represented Myanmar in five World Cups.
After retiring from competitive golf in 2004, Han joined the circuit as commissioner. In 2006, he became the first Asian executive chairman of the Tour and stepped down in 2016.
During his tenure, the Tour rose to prominence with several marquee events like the Singapore Open (its prizemoney peaking at US$6 million), the HSBC Champions (it became a World Golf Championships event in 2009) and CIMB Classic (South-east Asia's first event sanctioned by the PGA Tour).
Retired Singapore pro Lam Chih Bing, who won the season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia in 2008, was devastated to hear the news.
Lam, 45, said: "We even arranged to play golf after his last treatment so this really came as a shock.
"I was a rookie in 2000 and he just won the Order of Merit but he took me under his wing and guided me through pretty much my entire career. We also worked together when I was the TPC (tournament players committee) chairman and he was the executive chairman of the Tour.
"We fought many battles together and what I found out most was he always put the players' interest first."
Singapore Professional Golfers' Association president M. Murugiah, who has known Han for 40 years, paid tribute to his friend. The 57-year-old said: "He's my adviser. Whenever I had doubts, I would consult him and he's always there for me. He never says no to anyone who asks for help, he's unselfish and humble."
To honour him, the Asian Tour will create a Kyi Hla Han Future Champion Award to aid the development of juniors and golf in Asia.
Patrick Feizal Joyce, senior vice-president of golf for Asia Pacific at Sportfive which organises the Singapore Open, said: "Without (a) doubt, (he was) one of the forerunners who laid the foundation of the professional game we now have in Asia.
"All the players and those of us in the industry are much the poorer from his all too early departure."