I have just spent 10 days conducting a Pro Tour Golf College junior golf camp in Yangon, Myanmar. The six attendees ages ranged from a 11 year old to seventeen years old and represent the future of golf in Myanmar.
Two of the young golfers are from the city of Mandalay (445 miles from Yangon) and made the trip to attend the camp. All the juniors were the hardest working golfers I have had the pleasure of working with.
The work ethic of these young golfers to make improvement and willingness to learn new things were exceptional.
My last trip to Myanmar was in 1969 and the country has gone through many major changes since.
This is a nation that won independence from the British in 1948 and enjoyed democracy until a successful military coup in 1962. The result was the nation being closed off to the western world until 1988. Since then there has been slow progress toward free elections which finally happened in 2010.
With the country now opening up and starting to trade with its neighbors and the rest of the world the game of golf is flourishing. New courses have been built and many more resort style courses surrounded with housing are in the pipeline.
This year in December, Myanmar is the host country for the South East Asian Games which is held every two years. Golf is one one of the participating sports. The S.E.Asian Games will be conducted at the new national capital Nay Pyi Taw which is 320 km from the main city of Yangon.
You would think that with all the recent history that it would be impossible for any golfer from Myanmar to succeed as an amateur never mind as a professional! But that is not the case.
The first golfer from Myanmar to make a name for himself was Mya Aye who in the mid 1960's was the first Asian to qualify for the US PGA Tour through the tour school.
He only played part of the season and returned home and the reason being is he could not get use to the food in the USA and missed not having rice with all his meals! This was confirmed to me by Stewart Han who was studying in the USA at that time and caddied for Mya Aye.
Mya Aye went on to be a winner on the Asian Tour (Indonesia / Singapore Opens) and the Japanese Tour (Shizuako Open / Pepsi-Wilson Tournament). He also played in the 1980 British Open.
He was an extremely accurate ball striker and his iron approaches were struck with such precision and had very little curvature. Unfortunately he suffered liver disease and passed away prematurely.
In 1980 a young nineteen year old by the name of Kyi Hla Han turned pro and started to play on the Asian Tour and other major tournaments in the region.
At the end of his goolf career in 2004 Kyi Hla had won the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 1999 winning the prestigious Volvo china Open during that year.
He also during his career won the Malaysian PGA (1983, 85), Hong Kong PGA (1993, 94), Thailand PGA (1989) and Singapore Open (1994).
Kyi Hla also earned playing rights to the European and Japanese Tours until a hand injury restricted his playing after 2000.
He was instrumental in the players taking over the Asian Tour in 2004 and is currently the Executive Chairman of the Asian Tour. I met with him on my recent trip to Myanmar and he is optimistic about the future of growing the game in Myanmar and the rest of Asia.
The next golfer from Myanmar to make a name for himself outside his country is Zaw Moe.
After fininshing his university studies and a proven track record as an amateur in South East Asia he sold all his posessions for US$700 packed his suitcase, golf bag and headed overseas to play professional golf.
He based himself in Malaysia at the Royal Johor Golf Club where Kyi Hla's brother Chan Han was the resident professional. His accommodation was a small room at the back of the pro-shop which Zaw shared with three other young hopeful professional golfers dreaming of making it big on tour.
One of the other three was a young Fijian by the name of Vijay Singh who was struggling to make ends meet playing professional golf.
We know that he has now made close to US$70 million career earnings and won two majors! (US Masters and the PGA)
During that period the TDC Tour in Malaysia was a stepping stone for young professionals who could play four round tournaments.
Although the purses were not great, between US $50,000 to US $100,000 the expenses were small and this attracted players from not only Asia but also Australia and New Zealand.
Players like Jeev Milka Singh, Greg Chalmers, Arjun Atwal and most of the Thai's cut their teeth on this tour.
Zaw within a short period started to contend and eventually learn't how to win and won four times on the TDC Tour in 1992. Had his biggest win when he won the 1997 Singapore Open on the Asian Tour.
He had earned a tour card on the lucrative Japanese Tour in 1996 and until a major back operation in 2004 had retained his playing privileges. Never won on the Japanese tour but had numerous 2nd place finishes and had a career high of 29th on the 2002 Order of Merit.
He still has a full card on the Asian Tour and has not lost the enthusiasm to get better each year. He mentors many of the young Asian professionals playing on the Asian Tour and helps them not make the "rookie mistakes" of playing professional golf on and off the course.
For a country that has not had the best environment to develop professional golfers.
Myanmar has a better record then some of their neighbors who have had everything going for them with regards to the countries economy, high quality golf courses, facilities and coaching.
Just from working with the small group of juniors at the camp, watching, observing and sensing their hunger to learn new things I can see the future of Myanmar is bright.
From the Yangon Golf Club which was built in 1907 to the Royal Mingalardon Golf and Country Club (both have hosted the Myanmar Open on the Asian Tour) and those on the drawing board will provide the next generation that will make their mark in International golf.
Now the Myanmar Golf Association together with the PGA of Myanmar (in the process of being formed) need to get together and put in place a Long Term Player Development Pathway that will all guide the present young golfers to following and achieving their dreams like Mya Aye, Kyi Hla Han and Zaw Moe did.
David Milne and Lawrie Montague - Pro Tour Golf College
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