THERE was a sparkle in golfer Michelle Koh’s eye as she busied herself at the recently-concluded Asia-Pacific Ladies Invitational Golf Team Championship for the Queen Sirikit Cup at the Saujana Golf and Country Club in Subang.
The 23-year-old Michelle played a different role in the tournament – not as the fierce competitor she is known as but a volunteer instead.
The only reason for the startling switch is that the Kuantan-born Michelle is now a full-fledged professional golfer, as of March 14.
The former top amateur is bursting with excitement over her new journey.
“Malga (Malaysian Ladies Golf Association) wanted me to play in the Queen Sirikit Cup but we talked about it (turning pro just before the tournament). They were very understanding and I am so thankful for that,” said Michelle, who will also miss the Asian Games in South Korea in September.
Although slightly disappointed, Michelle is comforted by the fact that she has bigger things ahead of her – like chasing after her goal of being the first Malaysian woman golfer to qualify for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
The girl, who had shown much promise in the sport since getting into the swing of things on the greens at the tender age of 13 and came through the national junior programme, said that turning pro was inevitable for her – although it happened unexpectedly.
Delight shone in her eyes as she spoke about how it all started with her interest to compete in the China Tour last month.
“Over the last few years, I had shown improvement in my game and, naturally, the next big step for me was to turn pro. I felt that my game was ready and I felt that I was ready,” said Michelle, a graduate of Campbell University in North Carolina, with a degree in Business Administration.
“But I did not know how or when I was going to take the big plunge. I found out about the China Tour and spoke to my dad (Ricky Koh Hock Huat) about going there for experience – without any expectations.
“What I did not know then was that if I qualify for the Tour, I have to turn pro. That was the deal.
“And I qualified on the dot after three days of ups and downs during the qualifying round. I signed the papers (on March 14) and went on to compete in my first pro tournament – the Zhuhai Classic a week later, made the cut on the dot too and finished 28th ... that was an awesome start.”
With less than a month since she signed the papers, Michelle is still dealing with the transition from amateur to pro.
“When some greeted me ‘hello pro’... I said please do not call me that. It sounded odd. It all happened so fast,” she said.
“I started from school to college golf to full-time and now a full-time golfer with a different status. I guess, it will take some time for me to settle in but I plan to enjoy every step of the way. I will be back in China for several tournaments in May.”
In her maiden year as a pro, Michelle plans to make her presence felt on the Asian Tour first. Next year, she aims to attend the qualifying school in the United States to win the card to compete in the US LPGA Tour – just like her predecessors Lim Siew Ai, Jean Chua and Kelly Tan.
Michelle hopes her journey up the ladder as a pro will inspire the youngsters.
“I believe my decision to turn pro like some of my seniors will lift the profile of women’s golf in Malaysia. We are setting a pavement for the young kids to follow through and dream big. We are raising the bar and, hopefully, the young enthusiasts will aim higher and believe that there are careers for them as professional women golfers,” she said.
For her to bloom in the world of professional golf, she also intends to draw inspiration from her three favourite golfers – two-time Major winner Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, Australian Adam Scott and Park In-bee of South Korea.
“Adam struggled for a few years on the Tour but has been very persistent and determined and I like that strong character in him. I look up to In-bee and Rory too. I like In-bee’s temperament on the course – very composed, while Rory is very confident and sure of himself and, besides, he is good-looking too,” she said, laughing sheepishly.
Asked if she was interested in any particular gentleman on the Tour, she replied with a genuine smile: “Honestly, my life revolves around golf right now. I’m either practising on the course or talking about the game or doing something related to it off the course. I don’t really have time for other stuff ... I just want to be focused on improving my game and enjoy a successful start to my professional career.
“It will not be a bed of roses for sure. I need to be consistent and find sponsors to sustain me on the Tour. I don’t expect anything for free. Good paybacks come with good results and a lot of hard work. That’s what I aim to do.”
If her single-mindedness and sheer determination are anything to go by, professional Michelle is set to be a sparkling star for Malaysian golf.