PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Golf Association (MGA) have named a strong seven-member squad made up of six United States-based golfers to end an 18-year gold medal drought at the forthcoming Philippines SEA Games.
The four-man men’s side will be led by Ervin Chang, ranked No. 76 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), while the women’s team will be led by world No. 61 Alyaa Abdulghany, who will be donning national colours for the first time in an official meet.
Completing the men’s line-up are K. Rhaasrikhanesh, Adam Arif Madzri and Zubair Firdaus while the other two women are Natasha Andrea Oon and Ashley Lau.
Ervin and Ashley are the only two members who featured in the Kuala Lumpur Games two years ago. Ashley was part of the team that won Malaysia’s sole medal after combining with Nur Durriyah Damian and Loy Hee Ying to finish third.
Of the seven golfers, Zubair is the only one not based in the US. He is studying in Australia and trains at the renowned Hills Golf Academy in Queensland.
MGA are expected to rely heavily on their three key stars – Ervin, Alyaa and Natasha – to deliver the goods.
It remains to be seen if Malaysia can challenge Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia for the team title, but Ervin is certainly a good bet for the individual honour given his fine form in the US.
The 21-year-old Ervin, who finished a creditable seventh in last year’s Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Singapore, posted 10 top-10 results from 18 starts in the highly-competitive US golfing scene.
All eyes will surely be on Alyaa, 20, who has made waves in the US but her name is virtually unknown in Malaysia.
The 20-year-old Alyaa was born in Johor and spent her early childhood until she was six before moving to Newport Beach, California with her family.
She is a permanent resident in the US but still holds the Malaysian passport.
Alyaa, the 2016 USA Today High School Player of the Year, was part of the US winning sides at the 2017 Junior Solheim Cup and 2016 Junior Ryder Cup.
Alyaa has been in superb form in her last two tournaments in July, finishing fourth at the Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship and winning the South California Golf Association (SCGA) Women’s Amateur Championship.
Natasha may just be making her SEA Games debut but boasts plenty of international experience.
Like Ervin and Alyaa, the 18-year-old Natasha is also one of the highly-rated young golfers in the US.
Just last month, Natasha was among the 15 named in the to-watch-list for the prestigious Annika Award, which is given annually to the top female collegiate golfer.
Ashley, despite not enjoying good form of late, is still always capable of rising to the big occasion.
Ashley registered a respectable 12th placing in the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship in Japan.
She will be looking to complement Alyaa and Natasha to at least retain their podium finish in the team event.
Thailand and Philippines, powered by their big names, are expected to dominate the contest.
Thailand will be led by world No. 1 Atthaya Thitikul, who’s out to defend the two SEA Games golds in Kuala Lumpur while the host will throw in their Asian Games winning trios of Yuka Saso, Bianca Pagdanganan and Lois Kaye Go to bid for glory on home soil.
Malaysia last struck gold through Airil Rizman Zahari, S. Sivachandhran, Shaaban Hussin and Sahal Saedin in the team event at the 2001 Kuala Lumpur Games.
The last Malaysian women winners were Lim Ai Lian, Lim Siew Ai and Dorothy Ng, who claimed the team title at the 1993 Singapore Games.