As Mark Brown sets his sights on the Maybank Malaysian Open and a place in the record books with a third victory in as many weeks, his performances in India have already acted as motivation for fellow Kiwi, Michael Campbell.
Campbell, the 2005 US Open Champion, has been the standard-bearer for New Zealand golf for the best part of 15 years but Brown has surged ahead in the World Rankings as his victories over the past fortnight in the SAIL Open and the Johnnie Walker Classic have lifted him from 258th in the Official World Golf Ranking at the start of the year to 64th.
“I think it is healthy to have someone else out there,” said Campbell on the eve of the Maybank Malaysian Open at Kota Permai Golf and Country Club. “I have been the top ranked New Zealander for the last 15 years and to have someone overtake me gets me motivated. You have to turn a negative into a positive so that is one thing I want to do, to kick his butt.
“To have another Kiwi out there on The European Tour is fantastic. I have known Brownie for a long time since he was 16 or 17 years old and he has always been a great player. I wasn’t surprised at all when he won two tournaments back-to-back. When we were growing up in Wellington we had the same coach and the same practice fairways and I used to sit and watch him hit balls, he was that impressive. He stole my thunder a little though which is great and that is part of the game.”
For Brown, he described the last few days as “crazy”, as he locked himself in his hotel room.
“I rang my mother’s house and everybody was there having a few drinks and I was stuck in the hotel on my own,” explained The European Tour’s latest champion. “It was a funny feeling. I was thinking about the rest of the year as a lot of this is reasonably new to me. I talked to my coach (Mal Tongue) and want to take things slowly this year. As great as the two weeks were, its down the grind now though. I’m old news now but the goal is to challenge and keep playing well.”
Having risen to seventh on The European Tour Order of Merit and 64th in the World Rankings, his next target is a place in the World Golf Championships – CA Championship and if he continues in the same vein and get’s within the top 50, he might have Georgia on his mind for the Masters Tournament.
“The world ranking is interesting,” he said. “I was thinking just the other day that there was no way that my name should be up with those guys. Those players made millions in career prize money and I had a good 12 months. It’s an amazing feeling to be leading the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit, so high up in Europe and I have a chance to try for Doral in a couple of weeks and stay in the top ten on the European Tour.”
One of the biggest challenges in Malaysia is the extreme heat and humidity but it is a challenge Nick Dougherty for one is relishing. The Englishman won his maiden title in neighbouring Singapore in 2005 and enjoys the physical test posed by the conditions.
“The big factor this week is the heat,” he commented. “It is uncomfortable for the Europeans. I think if they said they enjoyed it in this temperature, it is a lie. But when the gun goes off to start the tournament, it is all part of it. I enjoy it and it feels more like an athletic sport. You go out, it is hard work, you feel drained at the end and I enjoy that.”
He is also looking forward to the test posed by Kota Permai Golf and Country Club, hosting the Maybank Malaysian Open for the first time.
“I think the course is great and the greens are in extremely good condition. The design is very good. It is nice to play a course where you don’t just thrash it off the tee with a driver. You have to plot your way around and the greens are undulating so they can tuck the pins away so it will matter which side of the fairway you have to come in from. It is nice to play a thinking man’s golf course. I am looking forward to it.”
Another of the pre-tournament favourites, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, has become something of a Malaysian Open expert having won the title in 2004 and 2005 before finishing runner-up in 2006.
The two-time Asian Tour Number One arrived in Malaysia short of tournament play or practice as he has been hit by illness and a back injury over the past three weeks and was only cleared to compete by doctors on Monday. He has in hospital twice in recent weeks but was determined to tee up at the Maybank Malaysian Open.
“I had a viral attack at the Indian Masters and spent four days in the hospital and then I had back problems last week and was admitted to the hospital again. I could not hit the golf ball at all and had to take it easy.
“My condition is now 60 per cent now but it’s getting better. I don’t know how fast my recovery rate is but I feel much better than the past two days,” said Jaidee after arriving on Tuesday night.
In between his ailments, Jaidee received an honorary doctorate in golf management from Ramkhamhaeng University in a ceremony presided over by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn last month. The honour was given to him for his contribution and success in golf and his work in helping golf development in the country where the Thai star has a golf academy in Lopburi.