Obituary: 1950s tennis kingpin Ong Chew Bee, later a national golfer, lived the sporting life

Former national athlete Ong Chew Bee died on March 18, 2018, at the age of 93.
Former national athlete Ong Chew Bee died on March 18, 2018, at the age of 93.ST PHOTO: ONG CHEW BEE

SINGAPORE - To perfect his chipping in golf, Ong Chew Bee for years spent every night outside his house hitting against the same spot on an old car tyre after the rest of his family had gone to bed.

He was no longer a young man then but Ong, who died on Sunday at the age of 93 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's, was a man who lived and breathed sport.

Golf was only his second love. In his heyday from the 1940s to the 1950s, Ong was the undisputed kingpin of tennis in what was then Malaya and Singapore, winning every major challenge trophy on offer.

In 1951, on the back of Malayan and Singapore national titles the previous year, he became the first tennis player from Singapore to play at Wimbledon. There, he lost 3-6, 4-6, 6-8 to British international and schoolmaster G.D. Oakley in the first round.

He also captained Malaya's first Davis Cup team in 1957 before retiring in 1961.

Ong is survived by his wife Grace and three daughters Florence, Gloria and Olivia.

He was right-handed as a tennis player but became one of the best left-handed amateur golfers in Singapore, winning the 1967 Putra Cup team title on home ground alongside Phua Thin Kiay, Brian Marks and J.T.A. Paterson.

Recalled Phua, 71, who also clinched the individual title that year to complete a double for Singapore: "He was much more my senior but an easy-going guy. I remember he was very nice to me and it was always very comfortable playing with him.

"Despite his age, Chew Bee saved his best for the last day of the Putra Cup that year and we ended up beating the Philippines by two strokes."

Ong's gentlemanly behaviour extended to those less proficient at the sport as well.

Said his eldest daughter Florence, 72: "In those days it was unheard of for low handicappers to play with high handicappers, but my dad had no issue at all.

"One of his long-time friends who was a high handicapper always liked to tell the story of how he had angrily shouted at the flight ahead to hurry up.

"It was my dad who took him aside and gently explained to him what golf etiquette was about."

Ong remained a competitive golfer well into the 1980s and, at age 60, told The Straits Times in 1984 that a good birthday present would be winning the Singapore Island Country Club championship.

His competitive fire was evident even as a coach, with former national tennis player Hassan Bohari remembering Ong as a "disciplinarian" during Singapore's 1977 Davis Cup campaign.

"He's one of the best coaches I have played under and he pushed us very hard," said Hassan, 62, himself a former national coach.

"One thing about him is how serious he took training. He would tell us, if you come for training then there's no point wasting time and not training hard."