Mardan takes pressure in his stride
Evergreen Mardan and defending champion Song play it cool ahead of Singapore Open
Mardan Mamat lifted the SMBC Singapore Open trophy to pose for pictures at Sentosa Golf Club yesterday.
Smiling for the cameras, the 49-year-old also drew smiles from the pressmen who gathered around him.
"Hopefully, it's like this on Sunday," said Mardan, clutching the trophy.
The veteran has been the Republic's top golfer for some two decades now and, while he endured a torrid 2016 - even contemplating retirement - he is back in the saddle, decked in a joyous pink floral shirt and armed with a what-else-can-you-throw-at-me attitude.
Ahead of the US$1 million (S$1.43m) national Open at Sentosa's Serapong Course from tomorrow to Sunday, Mardan does not feel like there is any pressure to perform.
"The last 12 months were a little bit of a roller-coaster for me, and I want to build up my confidence and make sure I can get back into the winner's circle again," he said.
"It will take a few months... but I'm very confident."
Singapore will be represented by 11 golfers at the Singapore Open, including the likes of Quincy Quek and Jonathan Woo, who are chomping at the bit behind Mardan.
The old warhorse does not feel like he has to fend them off to prove that he still owns the perch atop Singapore golf.
There’s no pressure whatsoever in retaining my title. Just like last year, I hope to make the cut.Song Young Han
"No, I don't need that, I just need to make my own money and play my game. I've had that title for 23 years, and it's about time we have youngsters coming up," said Mardan, who recently renewed his partnership with Yonex.
"I just want to keep myself healthy and play my golf.
"I'm already looking forward to the seniors tour."
ON A ROLL
While Mardan is looking to lift a home crowd, defending champion Song Young Han is just focused on enjoying the ride on a golf course where his stock skyrocketed last year.
The South Korean, who was ranked 204th then, shocked the golfing world when he pipped then world No. 1 Jordan Speith to the Singapore Open title by a solitary stroke.
And the 24-year-old Song appeared to be buzzing on his return to the scene of his first professional triumph.
"There's no pressure whatsoever in retaining my title. Just like last year, I hope to make the cut," he said, flashing a sheepish smile.
"After winning the Singapore Open, a lot of good opportunities came and I was able to experience playing on many different Tours and competing at the US PGA Championship. It gave me inspiration to take myself to the next level."
While the Singapore Open was his only win last year, Song went on to record two runners-up finishes at the Japan Golf Tour Organisation's Honma Tour World Cup and also at the Mitsui Sumitomo Taiheiyo Masters.
Song met Speith again at the PGA Championship at the Baltusrol Golf Club in New Jersey, where the Korean was given the locker next to the American.
To his surprise, Spieth remembered him and Song proceeded to take a selfie with the Texas-born golfer.
"A lot of good things have happened since my win here. All I can say is that I love Sentosa Golf Club, I love Singapore and I love Jordan Spieth," Song said with a laugh.
Jokes aside, both Song and Mardan are aware of the challenge the dreaded Serapong Course poses.
"The Serapong Course is a difficult course to play on when there is a lot of wind. So I believe the most important part is to focus on my short game and putting," said Song.
Mardan struggled with his driving and putting last year and, although he has put a lot of work into his game, he knows he faces a tricky test at Serapong.
"This course suits good ball-strikers. For me, I need my mid and long irons to be solid this week," said Mardan.
"The greens are very firm and the fairways are very soft - there are two different games there."