Thongchai Jaidee (Tha)
Lots of memories here obviously?
I’ve won twice at Saujana in 2004 and 2005 which was very important for my career. That’s why I love this golf course. A two-time winner. My life changed from here. On the last day in 2004, I made a hole in one on the 16th hole during the final round and I won by two shots. One shot changed my life. It made me who I am today. That’s why I love coming back to Malaysia. It’s like my second home. I have a lot of friends and fans’ support here.
Has the golf course changed much?
A few holes changed, like number six and seven. The condition is great. They’ve made changes to all the greens and the course is also longer now, it’s going to be difficult this week. The layout is almost the same but the length is longer. All the par threes, over 200 yards, it’s going to be challenging. Who plays the par three well will have a good chance this year. The par fives, some of them are really tough too. Par threes will be important.
How important is it for the Asian Tour players to have an opportunity to compete in a big event like the Maybank Championship against European Tour players?
It’s a good chance for the Asian Tour players to win the tournament. It’s an open field. A very consistent player will do well. You need to hit the fairways, don’t really need to be long. I think there’s a good chance for the Asian Tour players to win. A lot of our young players are coming up. We’ve got a strong field from Europe this week but I do think we have a good chance to get a winner from the Asian Tour.
I’ve been struggling a bit with my putting. I had two and a half week off at the end of the year and I’ve been trying to improve on my putting. My tee shots and irons are very good but I have to work hard at my putting. If you hit it 300 yards and make three putts, that’s not good. Trying to get better with the putter. Last week, I putted better on the last day in Dubai.
Were you happy with 2016?
I was happy as I won a big tournament, the French Open. In 2017, I would like to win another tournament. That’s my target.
Is the world top-50 a target for you?
A win this week will be nice as it can take me back into the top-50. That’s why I would like to win this week. I will also get into the Masters. I think I have a good chance. I know the course well. I’ve won two times here. I’ll be trying.
What’s your game strategy?
It’ll be my putting. That’s going to be the key. I hit 16 greens in the pro am yesterday and made only three birdies. I’ll spend a few hours on the practice putting green today for sure and try to gain my confidence back.
What keeps you playing so well at this stage of your career?
I never give up. I know how to work at my game. I train a lot. I got back to the gym early this year again. Will keep working hard at the gym for the next two months to get stronger. I also work on my golf swing a lot.
How do you help grow the sport especially amongst ASEAN players?
It’s about learning to play in tournaments. The future is good for the next generation of ASEAN players. It’s good to see them in the field this week. I have my own Foundation at home, I have my own golf team from 2001. It’s a junior team which is a project that I do to support the juniors from poor families. Our Foundation supports tournaments too, like I do the Asian Development Tour tournament. I want to give back to the people and the sport. I want to do the right thing as someone supported me when I had nothing.
How did your experience in the army help in your career?
When I was in the army, we had a golf team. We played together for three years. But the good thing was that I also trained like the army. I became strong from that. I was a paratrooper and ranger and it made me strong physically and mentally. Looking back, the army training helped my golf game a lot.
How many times did you jump out from a plane?
At least 60 times. It’s very good. The first time, I was very scared. We couldn’t sleep the night before. We talked about how we were going to get ourselves to jump off a plane. It was like a dream to come off the plane. After the second jump, it became easier and it became more relaxing although it’s very dangerous. You have to be careful with the jumps. Mentally it helped me for sure as you have to be careful during the jumps.
Marcus Fraser (Aus)
Welcome back to the Maybank Championship. How exciting is it to be here although we’re on a different golf course this year?
It’s always nice to come back as defending champion which I’ve not experienced too much throughout my career but it’s nice when it does happen. It’s quite a familiar golf course for me at Saujana. It’s nice not only to be back in Malaysia but also at Saujana. I’m quite familiar with the golf course, we’ve played a lot of tournaments here in the past. I always love coming to Malaysia. When you like a place, it rubs off on the golf course and that was what happened last year when I won here.
You won the individual title at the Eisenhower Trophy at Saujana in 2002. What do you remember from that and has the course changed much since?
I think the greens changed. They are quite undulating and there are a lot of slopes out there. You’ve got to put the ball at the right spots on the greens. It’s quite a tricky golf course and they’ve also added quite a bit of length to it. It plays a lot differently now but it’s a great golf course and everyone loves playing here. It’s a good fun golf course and the improvements they’ve made are great improvements. They’ve opened up the greens a bit more and still kept the severity to it with the slopes on the greens. It’s a good course to play and I’m looking forward to it.
And coming back here refreshed and recharged?
I had eight weeks at home. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. It was my daughter’s first day at school last week and I skipped the Middle East to make sure I was around for that. It’s not always I’m back home for a long period of time.
How would you describe your 2016?
I had some good weeks, winning the Maybank Championship and playing in the Olympics. I had a few other good weeks like finishing runner-up in Japan. But it was probably the most inconstant year I’ve had on Tour. It’s my 15th year. I had some really good weeks but had some pretty average ones as well. Hopefully I’ll be more consistent this year.
Any pressure to try to defend?
I think so, there’s always a little bit of added pressure. A different course, a different field this year, so it’ll be competitive out there. I was fortunate to cross over the line last year and you’ll never know what will happen this year. You’ve got to do everything right to have a chance. It’s pretty out there but I’m looking forward to the challenge.
What do you think of the young generation of golfers coming out of Asia?
I think it’s probably the strongest it’s ever been. The guys who are coming through now seem to be more developed than the guys 10 to 15 years ago. Golf in Asia is growing rapidly and it’s pretty exciting being a member of the Asian Tour at the moment as it’s probably the most exciting time for golf in Asia right now. It’s a great place to play and the guys coming through now are better than in previous years.
How do you think the Strategic Alliance between the Asian Tour and European Tour will impact the game here?
I think it’s great what they’ve done. It had to happen. It’s nice when all bodies can work together as opposed to fighting each other. We’re all in it for one reason which is to grow the game of golf. By doing the Strategic Alliance, it’s really exciting to be a member of both Tours. I’ve always enjoyed playing on the Asian Tour, a lot of good friends out here. But the number one goal is growing the game and making it bigger and bigger for the future generation to play it. It’s an exciting place to be.
15 years now on Tour, what have been the things you’ve learned that you think will sustain you in the game?
I definitely won’t be playing for the next 15 years ! In saying that, the biggest thing I’ve learned is to improve little things in your own game and not get caught up with what other guys do as they are so different in the way they play the game. There’s no point for me to try to hit it as far as Rory McIlroy. It’s not possible for that to happen in my game. I’ve just to keep improving on what I can in my own game. If you don’t do that, you can get left behind. Hopefully I can do that for the next few years.
What’s surprised you in regards to the development of Asian golf?
I think they’ve all been pretty strong. The whole Tiger Woods thing has started to show in the guys. When Tiger first came on 20 years ago, the kids they got interested in the game and they’ve come through now. They’re now in their early 20s and all the Asian countries are pretty strong. The development programmes are there to support all the young guys coming through.
What did the 2002 win do in your career?
It was such a big occasion. As an amateur, it was always your number one goal to play in the Eisenhower Cup and I was fortunate enough to win the individual and finished third in the team. That gave me the confidence when I turned pro. I was already in stage one of the European Tour qualifying School before the Eisenhower. Winning that gave me a lot of confidence going into 2003 as I went straight into the European Tour. It was a big confidence booster knowing that I was able to play at that stage and in a big occasion, which was pretty cool. It certainly helped me in the first few years as a professional.
Lee Westwood (Eng)
“Honestly I don’t remember a lot about the win here 20 years ago. I just remember winning and being associated with Saujana for two or three great years in the middle of the 90s. I actually lost here in a play-off in 1998 after the win in 1997 so I almost won back to back.
“Obviously then I won here in Malaysia three years ago so I love the place, and it’s nice to be back. The course here has improved all the time ansd the condition is fantastic here this week. The Tour have done a great job setting it up, the greens are in very good condition, you don’t often see greens out here this true. These are some of the truest greens I’ve played on in Asia, rolling really well and if you hit a good putt it will go in. It’s looking good.
“It has changed slightly since the last time I came here, they’ve moved the sixth and seventh and put in the eighth and ninth, from the other course, two strong holes.
“I’m looking forward to a good week, I seem to play well in South East Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, those hot places and I’m looking forward to getting going and getting off to a fast start and getting into contention.
“I’ve played well in the first couple of tournaments of the season, eighth in Abu Dhabi, 23rd last week even though I was the wrong side of the draw, so my game’s in pretty good shape. If you asked me to point out a weakness in my game at the moment I’d be struggling to say one.
“I have nine wins in Asia and a couple in this part of Asia so I’m keen to play well and get into contention and hopefully win my third tournament here in Malaysia.
“I’ve played well here so that’s as good a reason as any to come back. There’s nothing like getting some confidence at this time of the year, at the start of the season, and try and build on the first two performances of the season and it’s obviously a golf course I know well. I had an attachment here so it was nice to come back and meet some old friends.
“I’ve got a lot of friends in Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia and it’s nice to see them during the week. It was nice to have a bite and a few drinks with some friends last night, probably a few too many drinks!
“It’s nice to see a few people I haven’t seen in 20 years in some cases. One guy showed me a picture of me giving his kids a clinic 20 years ago and one of them is 31 right now – I suddenly felt very old!
“A friend of mine Fauzi was a caddie here 20 years ago and now he’s pretty much in charge of golf operations I think. We’ve grown and grey and slightly round together.
“I’d love to be Ryder Cup Captain sometime in the near future. It’s definitely on my radar, whether it’s in Europe or in the USA, it’s definitely something I want to do and it won’t be long before I throw my hat in the ring for Ryder Cup captaincy.
“It’s a good job I do like travelling, with the schedule I’ve got. Certainly in the last 20 years I’ve covered pretty much every corner of the globe and racked up a fair few air miles. I do love travelling and visiting new countries and some of the same ones over again – Malaysia’s one of my favourite countries to visit.
“I just love playing golf, I love being competitive, testing myself all the time and enjoying the life of travelling, playing great golf courses. Why wouldn’t you?
“It’s certainly been great for both tours, the Strategic Alliance. There are certain times you can’t play in Europe and you’re always made to feel very welcome here in Asia, they put on some great tournaments over here.
“At the start maybe they weren’t so good but over the years they’ve got better and better and better, and now you’ve got World Golf Champions and events like that in Asia.
“The golf courses have improved, Asian players have improved and that will be a lot to do with players from all over the world coming here and playing and the Asian players coming here and seeing what level they’ve got to.
“The Asian players have been given opportunities to play around the world and not just in Asia so that brings the game on. You see players like Matsuyama, KT Kim, Thongchai Jaidee and players like that, going and being successful around the world. I think that has a lot do with co-sanctioned events certainly.
“It’s given the Asian players a lot more opportunities and it’s given the European players a lot more opportunities to play in different places. That has brought on everybody’s game, the diversity of being one week in America, the next week being in China, the next week being in Spain. You have to adapt very quickly and that improves people’s games.
“I think I played with Anirban when he won here in 2015. I like playing with him and I enjoy watching his game. He’s got a strong game, he hits the ball well and he gets on with it. I like the speed he plays at, there’s no messing around – he gets over it and he hits it and there aren’t many weaknesses to his game. I enjoy playing with him, he’s a world class golfer and he’s shown that.”
Jeunghun Wang (Kor)
For me, this is a nice golf course. I love to play on Asian golf courses. I think the conditions are really nice and I feel good even though it is my first time here. The fairways are soft and it is easy to put the ball close to the hole.
My game feels the same. Honestly, I just want to make cut this week. I think about winning every time but I want to focus on my game first and not the win.
I feel like I’m coming back to my home town, home course and home Tour. I feel happy because everyone is very friendly here and this is great for me. Most of the friends I meet on the Asian Tour only ask me to buy them dinner (laughs).
I’ve won early in the season but I want to win more. I’m happy with my results but I want to keep focus on my game.
Gavin Green (Mas)
How’s the game and golf course?
The course is very challenging. There are a couple of holes where you have to be on the fairway. It will punish you if you are not. I’ve been playing okay in the last few weeks. I’m not going to overdo anything. I’ve seen the course so I know what to do.
How do you cope being a Maybank ambassador?
It is a new thing for me but once I get out of the golf course, I’ll be resting. I’ll do everything I need to do for Maybank including my practice but I always try to get as much rest as I can.
Do you have a target for the week?
I’m going to go out and play my game. It is important for me to do what I have to do. I know what to expect from this golf course. I have a high target but I need to focus on my game. If I can do that, the results will come. I’m confident but you can’t be over-confident at the same time.
The important thing is to keep my card on the Asian Tour. Hopefully I can get a win under my belt. It is more important for me to be more consistent and being up there more consistently. That’s more important for me – giving myself chances every week.
How’s the caddy situation?
It will be my dad and see what my brother wants to do. It might be a surprise to everybody. I don’t know if he (brother) is strong enough to carry a big bag.
What does it mean to you to play in a co-sanction event between the Asian Tour and European Tour?
Competition is still high. Everybody is good and you need to play good golf to win. It doesn’t matter what event it is. It is a good opportunity for me because you get to meet all the European guys, the Asian guys. You get to hang around them and see what they do. It is a learning curve for me and I’m still learning.
How’s the experience like playing as a professional?
In the beginning, it was very hard for me. I was top-10 in the amateur rankings before turning professional. I struggled and suffered. It was a huge learning thing for me to not push it. I just wanted results. It was a big transition for me. I had to arrange my own schedule and travel. It was tough in the first six months because I didn’t have card. Then I got my ADT card (Asian Development Tour), got used to things and started to play well. It kind of woke me up and here I am with my Asian Tour card. I was step by step the whole way then suddenly the Olympics came up but that was a big jump. Last year was a big year for me, I couldn’t ask for more. Hopefully I can do better this year.