Ben Leong fancies a higher flight


BY LIM TEIK HUAT

PETALING JAYA: For many first timers, teeing off alongside the some of the best professional golfers on the European and Asian Tour will likely set off butterflies in their tummies. 

AMBITIOUS: The 18-year-old Ben Leong isplanning to turn professional soon.

But not for Malaysia's teenage golf sensation Ben Leong. He wants to make his presence felt in his first appearance in the Carlsberg Malaysian Open, which begins at the Saujana Golf and Country Club on Thursday. 

The United States-trained golfer hinted yesterday that he was ready to turn professional anytime. And the Malaysian Open will be a good place to gauge whether he is ready to chart a new patch in his golf career. 

“I can't wait to test myself and see where I stand this weekend.  

“I hope to finish as one of the best Malaysians out there. I will aim to make the halfway cut,” said Ben, who turned 18 on Jan 20. 

Ben earned an invitation from the Malaysian Golf Association to compete as an amateur following his achievement in the South-East Asia Amateur Golf Team Championship (Putra Cup) competition in Brunei last December. 

He became the first Malaysian in 20 years to lift the individual title. 

Ben has made the breakthrough and he will be out to raise eyebrows again in the Malaysian Open. 

He may get on the same flight as top European golfers, among them Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, and the top Asians, Thongchai Jaidee and Arjun Singh. And Ben will treat it as an honour. 

“I will just concentrate on playing my best from hole to hole. I am really excited that I will be competing here. After the Putra Cup, this is like my second major tournament,” said Ben. 

He has been practising on the course and driving range since last weekend. 

“This is not an easy course. If you do not get the right shots, you will not make any headway,” said Ben. 

After three days of practice, he was rewarded with a three under-par 69 yesterday. 

“That was my lowest round here and I hope I will be able to card a better score,” he said. 

Ben, who has trained at the David Leadbetter Academy in Florida, has been impressive in junior age-group tournaments. 

He was a double gold medallist in Sukma (Malaysia Games) in his home state, Sabah, in 2002. He was also the first Malaysian to win the SportExcel Asia Pacific match-play title in the same year. 

Besides Ben, three other Malaysians, who were winners on the local amateur circuit, will also get to rub shoulders with the top professionals. They are Lim Eng Seng, S. Sivachandran and Mohd Sukree Othman. 

Malaysia will have seven professionals in the fray. They are 2002 Taiwan Open winner Danny Chia, P. Gunasegaran, Mohd Rashid Ismail, Airil Rizman, S. Murthy, M. Sasidaran and Shaifubari Muda. 

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