Hue, Vietnam (March 15): A 22-year-old Bangladeshi and a 16-year-old Indonesian upstaged their more fancied rivals on a gripping opening day at the 11th Faldo Series Asia Grand Final.
With a bogey-free, five-under-par 66 over the acclaimed Faldo Design layout at Laguna Lăng Cô in Danang, scratch-handicapper Mohammad Rasel, the number two ranked amateur in Bangladesh, set a blistering pace.
Hot on his heels is Naraadjie Emerald Ramadhan, who justified his wild card invitation with a three-under 68 to claim outright second place on a day when only 11 players in the elite 85-strong field bettered par.
Among them was 16-year-old Geraldine Wong. The Malaysian’s one-under 70 saw her open up a two-shot lead from highly-rated Japanese Minori Nagano in the Girls’ Division.
Since the inauguration of the Faldo Series Asia in 2007, the Grand Final has been won by players from Japan and India on four occasions each and once by players from China and Thailand. Although there are strong contingents from those countries as well as from Australia, Korea and New Zealand this year, they had to take a back seat today.
Sir Nick Faldo, who is hosting participants from 20 countries at the Laguna Lăng Cô resort this week, said: “I’m thrilled to see such outstanding performances from Rasel and Naraadjie. It shows the growing strength in depth that there is across Asia and bodes well for the future.”
Rasel took up the game six years ago and plays out of the Comilla Golf Club, some 90 minutes from the capital of Dhaka. It is one of only 11 courses in Bangladesh where the golfing population is estimated at less than 10,000. Of the handful of professionals, the best known is Mohd Siddikur, a winner on the Asian Tour.
Rasel, who was aged 21 when he won the Faldo Series Bangladesh Championship last October, said Siddikur has been one of his inspirations. “I hope to follow him and turn professional, but not for a couple of years,” said Rasel, who competed in the ninth Faldo Series Asia Grand Final at Mission Hills China in 2015 and has also represented his country in the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship for the past two years.
He has had no trouble adapting his game to the Laguna Lăng Cô course, hardly playing a false stroke in an accomplished round that consisted of 13 pars and five birdies, two of which were tap-ins and the remaining three from putts of less than 10 feet.
Brigadier General KM Salzar Hossain, the Bangladesh Team Captain, said: “It’s a good start for Rasel … but it’s only the first round. In the coming years we are hoping to produce 10 more Siddikurs. If Rasel could win this week it would be a big boost for golf in Bangladesh.”
Like Rasel, Naraadjie is thrilled to be competing here. In last month’s Faldo Series Indonesia Championship he posted a 54-hole total of 20-under-par but was edged out in a play-off that meant he missed out on automatic qualification for the Grand Final.
To his delight, however, he was granted a wild card by Sir Nick. “I was so happy when I heard that I would be playing here,” said Naraadjie, a member of the Indonesian national squad, whose most notable triumph came in the Under-15 category at last year’s Optimist Junior Championship at PGA National in Florida.
Malaysia’s Wong continued the good form she showed in finishing runner-up in a domestic tournament last week, chipping-in from off the back of the green at 18 to ensure a sub-par return. “I just want to do my best,” said Wong, who has earned a golf scholarship to the University of Central Arkansas.
Following the first round, Sir Nick conducted a long-game clinic for Grand Final participants. Some 24 hours earlier, he took part in a ‘Swing for Fun’ session with 30 students from the local Nuoc Ngot and Binh Am primary schools. “It was wonderful to see the enthusiasm of these young kids as they were introduced to the game. Our hope is that they maintain an interest in golf,” he said.
Supported by The R&A and endorsed by the Asian Tour and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the 2016-17 Faldo Series Asia campaign has stretched over 11 months.
As well as two events in China, India and Thailand, championships were staged in Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Chinese-Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam.
Recognised as the only global amateur series for boys and girls, the Faldo Series was established in 1996, expanding to Asia in 2006.
Today, 40 Faldo Series tournaments take place in 30-plus countries worldwide, touching more than 7,000 golfers each year. Past winners include Tseng Ya-ni and Rory McIlroy, both multiple Major winners.
Faldo Series Asia Grand Final, Leading First Round Scores
66 – Mohammad Rasel (Bangladesh)
69 – Liu Yung-hua (Chinese Taipei)
70 – Daniel Gale (Australia)
72 – Oscar Cadenhead (New Zealand)
69 – Phaiboon Phumkliang (Thailand)
70 – Desmond Kim (Singapore)
70 –Yusuke Sakamoto (Japan)
71 – Almay Rayhan (Indonesia)
68 – Naraadjie Emerald Ramadhan (Indonesia)
70 – Harrison Crowe (Australia)
70 – Napat Paramacharoenroj (Thailand)
70 – Jonathan Wijono (Indonesia)
73 – Hung Jo-hua (Chinese Taipei)
76 – Anna Kono (Japan)
76 – Michela Tjan (Indonesia)
76 – Andrea Au (Hong Kong)
70 – Geraldine Wong (Malaysia)
72 – Minori Nagano (Japan)
73 – Bella Kil (Australia)