Mardan is Singapore's first $3m sportsman
But 'don't read too much into the $3m earnings' because there are hidden costs, says Singapore's No. 1 golfer
He's been Singapore's No. 1 golfer for more than 10 years.
Yet a cold wooden bench was his bed, his hand-carry bag serving as his pillow, one cold night at Incheon Airport in Seoul some five years ago.
On another weekend in Dubai about eight years ago, he slept on the floor in a hotel room of a good friend.
Both times he missed the cut at major events and could not get a flight back to Singapore.
Mardan Mamat is Singapore's most successful professional golfer, yet he travels economy or budget for tournaments abroad.
And in Singapore, unless his multi-talented wife Siti Nazariah is free to drive him around in their five-year-old Kia Sorento SUV, he takes public transport, the MRT being his favourite mode of travel.
We are talking about a down-to-earth sportsman, now touted as the $3-million man, who stays in a five-room HDB apartment in Jurong West.
With his 37th-place finish in the recent Hero Indian Open, where he bagged US$10,956 ($14,800), he surpassed the $3-million mark in earnings between the two Years of the Monkey.
And the booty came through prize money alone, bearing in mind that he has a generous annual Yonex sponsorship.
From 2004 to 2016, Mardan, naturally, had more highs than lows, the three best years being 2006 when he earned US$246,018, in 2010 when he amassed US$263,109 and in 2012 with $247,647 from the Asian Tour and co-sanctioned events.
But, while pleased with his performances so far, Mardan, who will be 49 in October, says reading too deeply into those dollar figures alone can be misleading.
"These earnings were made over a long pro career. Professional golfers like me have to pay a 3 per cent levy from our earnings to the Asian Tour and, for tournaments, we have to cough up money for flights, accommodation, meals and other incidentals," he tells The New Paper.
"Like, I have a tournament coming up next month in Mauritius, where the hotel accommodation can cost me £200 ($380) daily.
"What if I miss the cut, and cannot get a flight back quickly?" he asks.
He then quips: "Any sponsors?"
His predicament, though, is a microcosm of what Singapore's professionals face, for he plays in 60 per cent more tournaments than any other local golfer, offering him opportunities to win prize money.
Coming from a humble, poor beginning, frugality had been induced in the father of five children (aged 17 to 28) at a very young age.
And he made the virtue his trademark in his relatively successful 22-year pro career that began with a boom.
In his debut pro event at Tanah Merah Country Club's Garden course, he shot a hole-in-one and won a Jaguar XJS convertible worth $350,000 without COE. He sold the car to a doctor for $270,000.
That is a princely sum for any local sportsman, especially so for Mardan, an affable personality who used to earn $8 a day as a caddie at age nine.
Then, studies at Boon Lay Primary School was a drudgery, and golf was a dream sport.
The fifth in a family of eight children of an engineering supervisor and a housewife, Mardan's decision to quit school came naturally as money was hard to come by.
His mum objected, but Mardan said: "We weren't a rich family, so I did not want to impose on my parents for financial help. But, overall, my family was supportive of my decision to pursue golf."
So at 13, he joined his elder brother Mazlan as a caddie at Jurong Country Club (JCC), where he also honed his golf game.
Whenever he had no caddie duties, he would sneak in at hole No. 4 and armed with only one club - a six-iron - and a bag of balls he fished out from the course's ponds, he would play from tee to green.
Other caddies and some members were aware of what he was doing, but they closed one eye.
And the likeable Mardan would even play past dusk, the dim light provided by street lights on the adjacent Jurong Town Hall Road, allowing him to spot the balls.
He recalls: "The six-iron followed me wherever I went. From the family home in Teban Gardens to the caddie hut at Jurong, the club was my companion. And I would practise my swing whenever time permitted."
When he was 15, in 1982, he got his first set of clubs - used MacGregors handed over by a JCC member.
"I was a 12-handicapper at 18 and, when I was 22, became a scratch player," says Mardan whose work ethic is exemplary.
"My biggest breakthrough came when I was selected to play in the Eisenhower Trophy - the world amateur team championships - in 1989."
Five years later, Mardan turned pro and there was no looking back as he continued to ply his trade on the Asian Tour, European Tour and occasionally in Japan.
He has had considerable success in his pro career and has also played in Majors, three times at the British Open but without success.
In May 2004, Mardan became Singapore's second sports millionaire after footballer Fandi Ahmad.
Boosted by his biggest career pay cheque of US$50,000 for the 2004 Indian Open win, he surpassed the million-dollar career earnings mark.
As he looks ahead to the horizon now that he would qualify to play in the Seniors in 18 months' time, he is also working out his plans.
"Owning a golf academy sounds good," says Mardan, who over the years has had big backers, namely golf company Pan-West and former Jurong captain AC Wong, his mentor who had helped him morally and financially.
"Some friends have encouraged me to be a coach or instructor, that's not a bad proposition either," adds Mardan.
His big goal now is to qualify for the Rio Olympics in August with some good lead-up showings that would help him push up his qualifying rankings from 50th (the final cut-off).
For that aim, there would not be a different practice routine for the disciplined Mardan, who has kept his focus on golf, and family.
Many golfers marvel at his work ethic, built around morning or evening runs, occasional rounds at Raffles Country Club, time at the range and chipping and putting areas, a strict protein and carbo diet, the occasional yoga stretches and meditation.
AC Wong once observed: "They say you don't really know a person until you've lived together.
"We went to the Hiroshima Asian Games in 1994 and it was there that I realised how dedicated a golfer he is.
"He would wake up at 4am for runs. In the room, he could not keep still and would take out his putter and practise."
These are the attributes that allow Mardan, a devout Muslim, to play through even the Ramadan month of fasting.
Singapore Professional Golfers' Association president M Murugiah says: "I've always been fascinated by Mardan's professional approach to the game.
"He's always been focused, follows a strict regimen and leads a disciplined life.
"And talking about fasting and playing, mind you he's also won tournaments during the fasting month and put some of us to shame.
"He's a great role model to my fellow professionals and all local sportsmen. We are truly proud of him."
So should Singapore be.
The money game
Career earnings that first crossed the $1 million mark:
- Saimee Jumaat (jockey)
- Fandi Ahmad (above) (footballer)
- Mardan Mamat (golfer)
Career earnings nearing/crossed the $1 million mark:
- Baihakki Khaizan (above) (footballer): Reportedly will earn $1.5m in his four-year deal with Johor Darul Ta'zim II alone, signed in end-2013
- Shahril Ishak (fooballer): Doubled his five-figure monthly salary when he signed for JDT II in 2014
- Hariss Harun (footballer): Reportedly earns US$30,000 ($42,000) a month with JDT under a new deal that started this season. Would have earned $813,840 from JDT in the past two seasons alone.
From MAP Awards alone:
- Li Jiawei (above) (table tennis): $1.27m
- Feng Tianwei (table tennis): $1.003m
- Tao Li (swimming): $783,750
- Remy Ong (above) (bowling): $666,000
- Wang Yuegu (table tennis): $572,000
- Joseph Schooling (swimming): $435,000
Name: Mardan Mamat
Date of Birth: Oct 31, 1967
Family: Married, with five children.
Turned pro: 1994.
European Tour wins: 1
Asian Tour wins: 5
Tour earnings (from 2004):
2004 - US$149,157
2005 - US$93,197
2006 - US$246,018
2007 - US$109,845
2008 - US$201,803
2009 - US$217,154
2010 - US$263,109
2011 - US$70,856
2012 - US$247,647
2013 - US$107,432
2014 - US$219,972
2015 - US$177,117
2016 - US$57,458.
Note: Mardan also earned $9,400 from SPGA events in 2015. He has also won prize-money in several other local tournaments and ADT events.
He's always been focused, follows a strict regimen and leads a disciplined life. And talking about fasting and playing, mind you he's also won tournaments during the fasting month and put some of us to shame.
— Singapore Professional Golfers' Association president M Murugiah, on Mardan, the model professional