Kelly Tan began swinging clubs at the tender age of 12, quickly rising through the ranks of junior golf in Malaysia. As she turns 30 on the first day of the Maybank Championship, we uncover not just a golfer but a lifestyle built around dedication and dreams and the pursuit of excellence on and off the course.
“I’m not liking turning 30 but I have to deal with it. It’s a game of longevity, where golfers can compete at a high level well into their later years, but I just have underachieved for my own sake,” says the Batu Pahat, Johor lass when met at the Kuala Lumpur Golf & Country Club recently.
The last time she played here was in the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia in 2017. She has participated in the tournament annually since the age of 17, having transitioned from an amateur golfer to a professional.
“I would say, in many ways, playing at the LPGA in Malaysia was life-changing. Little did I know I would get a scholarship to the US to pursue a six-month college preparatory course and full-time golf programme at a top academy where I got to learn from the best. And that really took my game to the next level,” she recalls.
From there, she decided to attend Q-school, where she promptly secured her card. “If you asked any professional golfer, they would liken the experience to how a lawyer goes through the bar exam. It’s highly challenging,” she remarks, alluding to the rigorous qualifying tournaments held annually for prominent golf tours like the PGA and LPGA Tours in the US and the European Tour.
“Achieving that at a young age really pushed me to where I am today and the Maybank Championship this year is going to be another life-changing moment, especially for the next generation. We have two amateurs playing and I can’t wait to see where the course takes them in five years.”
In April, Tan assumed the role of Maybank’s Asean ambassador to bolster her golf career and foster greater diversity, accessibility and inclusivity in women’s golf across the region. Tan will be running juinior clinics and mentorship programmes during her off-season.
“This is the first time I’m working with a bank. I feel truly blessed and thankful for its backing, which extends beyond my career to the broader support of women. Nevertheless, I am eager to secure additional funding to enable the expansion of my team and that’s crucial if you want to advance your career.”
After a decade on the LPGA Tour, the golfer reflects on the sacrifices made for her golfing journey. Being away from family and missing special moments have been tough but she has adapted swimmingly and is thankful for technology connecting her with loved ones. While it is different, she acknowledges that this is her dream job.
Tan understands that sacrifices come with the territory and views them as part of the game. She is grateful for the opportunity to pursue her passion professionally, knowing it will not last forever. Consequently, she views it not as a hurdle but an essential step towards realising her dreams.
Right now, she is focused on the intense week of the tournament because she is the role model for women’s golf in Malaysia and there is always that added pressure to live up to expectations. “I’m putting that thought behind me by focusing on the support I will be receiving from family, friends and fans. It’s never easy playing before a home crowd but I am looking forward to it. It’s going to be a special birthday week,” she says.
The two-time Olympian approaches every tournament with a consistent training routine, focusing on flexibility, mobility and keeping her golf swing in tune. Tan recognises the mental aspect of the game and has been working with a coach to reduce self-imposed pressure. During tournaments, she studies the course and develops a strategic plan with her coach Gary Gilchrist to optimise her performance. She also credits her strength and conditioning trainer Rich Hesketh for her progress.
Balancing her career with home life (Tan is married to an interior designer) has been challenging but they’ve found ways to spend time together, even on the golf course. “He was my caddy and we decided I would find a new one this year so he could focus on his work. But I was struggling and he came back to caddy for me. Honestly, God’s given me a lot,” she gushes.
Her advice to young and upcoming golfers is to never give up. “Golf can be a frustrating game and it takes a long time to master the skills; one needs immense patience. And always have fun, you will fall in love with the game more.”
Tan’s biggest dream is to win an LPGA event. “Winning this would be like breaking the ice for Malaysia, similar to how I paved the way for women’s golf and the next generation. If I achieve this victory, I’ll be sending kids the message that ‘if someone has done it, so can I’.”
Read more about the Maybank Championships with Maybank group president and CEO Datuk Khairussaleh Ramli here.
This article first appeared on Oct 2, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.