An article by guest writer Lam Chih Bing. Refer to “About the Writer” at the end of the post.
Over the years, I’ve gained priceless experience by being a golfer and I pray all the time that I can stay competitive and injury free because I believe I have one of the best jobs in the world!
I wish I had a dollar every time someone asks me “How do you make a living playing golf?” I get that so often when I tell people I am a professional golfer. I suppose I get so many questions because it is such an uncommon profession here in Singapore.
Let me just explain how a golfer makes a living out of knocking little white balls into holes. There are 6 major golf tours in the World – The US PGA Tour, European Tour, Japan Golf Tour, Asian Tour, Australasian Tour and the Sunshine Tour (South Africa). First and foremost, a player has to qualify to play on one of these tours. This is usually done by taking part in the qualifying tournament before the start of the season to earn eligibility to play on the tour. The better you play in the qualifying tournament the more events you get to play on that particular tour. This is by no means an easy task as the US PGA Tour (the most lucrative tour) typically gets about 1500 entries in the qualifying tournament and only the top-25 players out of all these players will earn a full card to play on the tour. The tour that I play on, the Asian Tour had 550 players this year vying for 40 spots to play on the tour. Once you earn your playing privileges onto the tour through this qualifying tournament, you will have to try to play as well as you can to retain your playing rights for the following year. On the US tour, the top-125 players on the Order of Merit gets to retain his playing rights the following year whereas the Asian tour, only the top-60 gets this privilege. Any lower in the ranking earns you another trip back to the qualifying tournament. The biggest incentive is to win an event on the tour and you will be guaranteed full playing privileges for the next 2 years.
On the Asian Tour where I ply my trade, we have around 25 tournaments a year around the region as well as sanctioned events as far as Switzerland, Scotland and the US. All these events are 4 day tournaments and the typical starting field for all these events are between 120-156 players depending on the daylight available. The first 2 days, all the 120-156 players will play 2 rounds and after the 2nd round, there is a cut-off where only the top 65 players get to play the remaining 2 rounds. Once you make this 2 day cut, you are guaranteed a paycheck and those who didn’t make the 2 day cut earns an early flight home and no income for the week. The prize money on the Asian Tour varies from US$300,000 to US$7,500,000. The winner of the tournament will get 16% of the prize fund, the 25th position gets about 1% of the prize fund and the player bringing up the rear will make 0.28%. On the US Tour where each tournament varies between US$5,000,000 to US$9,000,000, a player will get the chance to be instant millionaire by winning one of those events.
Life on Tour
After being on tour so many years, things have become pretty routine. Tournaments usually runs from Thursdays to Sundays. Mondays are traveling days, Tuesdays for practice and we would have pro-ams on Wednesdays.
I am really lucky to have a very close group of friends that I hang out with most weeks. Its is a pretty diverse group with of players from Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Myanmar, Australia and the US. We practically do everything together including our practice, work out, dinner etc. During our peak period during the season, I would see this group of friends more than I would see my family.
Naturally over the years, we have had our share of wonderful memories. Somehow most of the things that stick with you are the practical jokes and the dumb dare bets that we so often play on one another. Some of these dumb dare bets include swallowing a live earth worm, wearing a Nemo hat to play golf in a big tournament with live television, skinny dipping in the freezing sea in broad daylight, swallowing a big spoonful of chilli padi and not drinking for 10 minutes, jumping into a fish pond in the lobby of the hotel just to name a few. The best practical joke that we played on a friend was digging up the eyeballs from a suckling pig and burying it inside a blackforest cake during a pro-am dinner. After our friend ate it (and he’s one of those who refuses to eat anything exotic), we told him what he just swallowed and he caused such a big commotion at the dinner that it was hilarious!
I know for a fact that the top golfers in the world playing on the US and European tours play all these pranks on one another as well. It seems like every week you will hear of new stories. Life on tour is certainly not just golf, golf and more golf!
Characters on Tour
The Asian Tour has in recent years grown to an extent that we have players from all corners of the globe plying their trade here. Of course with such diversified background, we have all sorts of characters on tour. You would hear stories of players working as pizza delivery boy or on the construction sites just to save enough money to try their luck on the tour. Here are a few of the more interesting characters that I’ve played with:
Security Guard from China
One of the most unlikely of golfers I’ve encountered. I played with this professional golfer from China about 4 years ago with a very home-made golf swing. He told me he used to work as a security guard at a golf course in his late teens which is the first time he’s ever set foot inside a golf club. He got really intrigue by the game and he started sneaking out and hitting balls at the range at night and got hooked onto the game. He got a break when the golf course let staff start playing on the course every Monday during maintenance. He then worked really hard during that one day and became pretty good at the game and decided to give professional golf a go. He’s done pretty well on the China Tour and is making many times of what he would have made as a security guard.
The Angry Golfer
Being such a stressful game, it is very common for golfers to lose their temper on the golf course. But I think all these years on tour, after hearing countless stories of players breaking clubs, tossing clubs into water hazards and once, a player even got his club stuck on a tree at 10m tall, I’ve got one that surpasses it all. We were playing a tournament in Macau and it is a really tricky course with water hazards all over the place. A player (I won’t mention names) started hitting some bad shots and very soon loses it. He starts breaking a club or tossing it into hazards every time he hits a bad one. By the end of 18 holes, he was left with only 7 clubs (after starting the round with 14). He then gave the remaining clubs to his caddy and decided to “quit” golf for a few months.
I once played with an Indian golfer who was obviously from a very humble background. He showed up on the first tee with a patched up golf bag, some very old clubs and shoes that look like they’ve been worn for years. I remember him so much because he was wearing a glove so old that to have any traction on it, he had to spit on it before every shot. Luckily it’s not one of those big gooey spits but more like 5-10 little ones, just to give the glove a bit of moisture to keep it slightly sticky. He also cannot stop calling me “sir”. I remember telling him to stop calling me “sir” sometime during the back nine to which he replied “Yes sir, sorry sir”!
My Most Memorable and Embarrassing Moments on Tour
Over these past 12 years as a pro, I have been lucky enough to win 13 tournaments (12 on the regional tours and 1 on the Asian tour). While each win is a special and memorable occasion, I would have to say the most special memory for me is during the 2008 British Open Golf Championship at Royal Birkdale. I had just become the 1st Singaporean to make the cut in a major championship and walking down the 18th hole on the final round that Sunday, with massive bleachers surrounding the fairway and green on both sides, a scene I have watched on television since I was a 10-year-old learning how to play this game, right there and then, I said all the sacrifices I have made growing up to become a golfer was worth it.
On the flip side, I have so many “oops” moments on the golf course, more than I care to remember. There are a few instances where I wish I were an ostrich and can bury my head into the ground. Once I shanked a bunker shot almost taking out the head of a spectator (we had a pretty sizable gallery as I was playing with Anthony Kim in Korea). Another time, I was playing with Rory McIlroy in the world cup and the last hole with pretty big galleries as well and a bunch of television cameras around the green, I chili-dipped a chip so bad you could hear the groaning and moaning as well as sniggering and laughter from the marquees. Of course, after that happened, I went up to my partner Mardan and said I hope that wasn’t captured on live television. Of course as luck would have it, the moment I went up to my locker to check my phone, I have received at least 15 snide comments on my phone “congratulating” me about wonderful chip!
Another year in Myanmar, I had the runs with my tummy after eating some dodgy Burmese food and about 5 mins before I was about to tee off, I let out what I thought was going to be a fart … and out came more than just air! So for the rest of the round, I had to wear my rain pants to play. So, if you ever go to a golf tournament and see a player wearing a rain pants to play in broad daylight, you know the reason! At least I had my rain pants, a good friend of mine, told me about the time when he was playing with Martin Kaymer (currently the 4th ranked player in the world) at the Singapore Open, he actually played golf with a big brown stain on his white pants! Guess he forgot his rain pants that day!
Best Job in the World
I remember 12 years ago right before I made the decision to turn professional. I had 2 job offers and was seriously thinking if I should just play it safe and get a regular job. However, I decided that I am only young once and I should at least give it a go and see how good a golfer I can become. Initially, I thought I would at least give myself 3 years to taste the life of a professional golfer but 12 years on, I am still doing it. Time seems to just fly by so quickly. I suppose it’s the fact that I have so much fun doing what I am doing. Playing golf is something that I love and I know so many friends always comment how lucky I am to be doing something I love for a living. I think my wife can attest to the fact that if I take a few days off “work”, I will actually start to miss it and cannot wait to go back to playing golf.
Over the years I have had the opportunity to play with some of the best golfers in the world. I also have the chance to play with royalties, ministers and former heads of states. I get a kick when some of these “big shots” actually say they wish they could change jobs with me! I think a big part of the reason is that for a lot of amateur golfers that I play with, a lot of them cannot wait to retire so they can play more golf and travel the world, something that I get to do as part of my job.
A part of me always wonder how different life would be if I took a different path and started working in the corporate world. But over the years, I’ve gained priceless experience by being a golfer and I pray all the time that I can stay competitive and injury free because I believe I have one of the best jobs in the world!
About the Writer
Lam Chih Bing is one of the leading professional golfers in Singapore. He has a BA degree from the University of Arizona and an MBA from the University of Leicester.