Leaving Saturday afternoon from Columbus, I took off on a 35 hour journey to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the CIMB Classic. After a double red-eye that included sunrise over London and sunset over Tehran, I landed Monday morning for my first ever trip to Asia. The plan is to attempt to document what it’s like to cover a PGA tournament on the other side of the world at a time when almost no one is watching. With the 2016-2017 season recently wrapped, the MLB Playoffs beginning, NFL season in full swing, and the start of the NHL and NBA seasons, the PGA TOUR could not be further in the back seat. And that’s what was the most appealing thing to me about this swing. Why does the TOUR go to Malaysia? Why do the players come? We’re gonna try to get to the bottom of this.
Some video content will come shortly after the week has wrapped. This has been tough to film without my man DJ here (already lost a tripod in a Starbucks), but we’re going to do our best to tell the story through video. I mean, I could describe to you what the street markets are like just a few minutes walking from the downtown hotel, but that doesn’t really fully set the scene.
You don’t care. You’re not tuning into this post for a weather update. But it honestly needs to be mentioned just how freaking muggy it is here. It turns out that the equator is really humid. I walked out of the airport at like 8:00 AM and was simultaneously drenched. Like, I was impressed that my body was capable of producing that much perspiration. If there’s ever a time to try to get away with naming a tournament the Swamp Ass Invitational, it’s during the fall series.
Also, it rains pretty much every day here around the same time in the afternoon (some time in the 3:00-5:00 range). With that in mind, tee times are already moved up every round, and everyone loves it because play is wrapped by 3:00 PM. It’s kind of beautiful.
The city of Kuala Lumpur is what makes this tournament unique. The TOUR stops in Asia once a year, and most of why I wanted to come was to soak up the vibe of the city itself. Even though the players essentially refuse to venture past the restaurants across the street, Kuala Lumpur is significantly more interesting than almost every other stop on tour. I’ve never been to Malaysia, I had no idea what this city is like.
I spent Monday visiting the various tourist spots, sampling the food in Chinatown and Little India, shopping for trinkets, and marveling at the prices of Uber rides (one ride across town cost me $1.25). Kuala Lumpur is an amazing mix of east and west. The population is obviously overwhelmingly Asian, but even with that Asian population, it’s incredibly diverse. People of all different Asian descents can be seen from the streets all the way to the golf course, and it’s westernized enough that us white guys don’t stick out. It’s fascinating. The city is safe, affordable, and the food is phenomenal. What’s not to like?
Though the players’ hotel is not far from the golf course, KL traffic can be brutal. Motorcades run approximately once an hour, and police officers on motorcycles ride ahead to move people out of the way in standstill traffic, and stop highway traffic at the entrance ramps so we can zoom to and from the course in less than 20 minutes. At first it seemed excessive, but after seeing the traffic, it’s clearly a necessity. It’s honestly a thrill, and some of the gaps these cars squeeze through are pretty tight.
I got to play in the Pro-Am Wednesday with Patrick Rodgers. We had a blast, and he was super cool to play and chat with. I’ve been tracking his progress for several years now, and he’s had a bit of a struggle this year. It was interesting to pick his brain on those struggles, what caused it, and what he’s doing to straighten himself out. I’m still very confident we’re gonna be hearing a lot about him in the near future.
But the real MVP of the group was Ali, aka the Malaysian Aphibarnrat. Ali is a local policeman, and a three handicap to boot. He wasted no time getting over the ball, setting up closed, and firing over the top, hitting low butter cuts through the thick Malaysian atmosphere. It was inspiring. He rattled off at least five birdies to carry our otherwise apathetic team.
I could not have played worse. I think I lost seven balls. I did not hit one single fairway. Made like three birdies in a shamble format, which is shameful on a course full of drivable par-4’s and reachable par-5’s. My time on the Pro-Am circuit may be coming to an end very soon if there are similar repeat performances. And I haven’t even gotten to meet Alfonso Ribeiro yet.
TPC Kuala Lumpur
Incredibly narrow fairways, almost no options off tees, and not a dogleg in sight. There’s a lot more significant elevation changes in person than there is on TV, but it’s far from ideal. Very little thought or strategy is needed out here.
That being said, the guys out here seem to love it, mostly for the reasons listed above. I will say, there is a ton of shot value in driving the ball. Lift, clean, and place is in full effect, so if you manage to fit it in these shoestring fairways, you’re rewarded with ball in hand. That’s at least a welcome change from bomb and gouge, but I was totally uninspired by the layout.
- Thursday was my first ever walk with Asian fans, and honestly, this is part of the reason why I came. I wanted to know who the people are that attend events here. Is it expats? Locals? I discovered it was almost all locals, and the legitimate excitement/giddiness over Gavin Green was contagious. The applause and the cheers were heartfelt when he made birdie on 17 (his 8th), as a guy near me let out a “YESSS!” that was intended to be much quieter than it ended up being.
- I bailed on JT’s group as he made the turn on Thursday so that I could find some sunscreen. His caddie, Jimmy Johnson had had enough by the time they reached the 2nd (his 11th), and was seeing stars. He had to head in, and if I had still been following, JT confirmed I would have gotten the call.
- As much as I didn’t care for the course, the tournament itself is pretty fun. With a limited field, the coverage shows a large percentage of the field, and is ideal to fall asleep to back in the states. For some reason this was always an event I used to watch on TV, and it’s fun to actually get to see it in person.
- Hopefully will be checking back in over the weekend. Thanks for indulging.