Arguably the most coveted amateur golf contest of its kind, the 33rd edition of the annual MercedesTrophy made a glorious return this May and took golfers across Malaysia on an experience to remember. The tournament hosts up to 60,000 golfers across 60 countries worldwide each year and concludes in the World Finals held in Germany. It celebrates the globally lionised automobile brand’s top-of-the-line vehicles and loyal golfing patrons who wish to put their pedal to the metal (or should we say iron?).
Seeing the word “amateur” in a competition’s description might lead to individuals unaccustomed to the intricacies of the sport being dismissive. But it is crucial to note, especially with pertinence to the MercedesTrophy, that there is a lot more to the game than meets the eye. Over the four qualifying rounds and the national final, this year’s event presented the crème de la crème of the local golf scene, each player a devotee of the game.
Every great sportsman has a tale to tell, and seated on the plush sofas in the lobby lounge of the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (KLGCC) during a post-tournament interview with The Edge, this year’s top winners — overall champion Lim Wee Tet and first runner-up Ken Lee — were no different. What made their stories special, however, was their respective renditions of the ever-impactful anecdote of an ordinary man presented with extraordinary circumstances, sharpened by a committed passion to his forte.
It had been a long time coming for Lim, who has been a keen follower and participant of the tournament since 2016. Golfing, which had mainly been a means to network for him when he started playing, developed into something more serious when a certain luxury carmaker became involved.
All smiles and chuckles, Lim states that he looks forward to each year’s competition and that participating brings him “immense joy”.
So, what goes into the making of a champion? Well, when asked about his triumph, Lim humbly chalks it up to luck. “At the qualifying round, I did not play that well, so I was thinking I would not have the chance to enter the final,” he recalls.
Yet, as the champion opened up about his journey with the MercedesTrophy, it became clear that his victory was much more than one simply scripted by fate, and was rather a result of cleverness and diligence honed through years of participation. Mornings in the month leading up to the national final saw Lim dutifully heading to the Bukit Jalil Golf and Country Resort, KL, his home club that, as luck would have it, is conveniently located just a stone’s throw from his workplace. For about an hour before the start of each work day, he would practise chipping and putting, a strict ritual that he attributes much of his success to.
The work did not stop there. Upon learning that this year’s final was to be held at The Els Club at Desaru Coast in Johor, a course he had never played before, Lim got down to business. “I did a lot of studying [before the final],” he mentions. “On YouTube and Google, I researched the layout [of The Els course] — how the greens and the fairway are. Everything.”
This thorough research gave Lim the closest possible perception of the course prior to the game on the coast, providing him an edge even though he had never seen the grounds with his own eyes before the day of the tournament.
“I even printed out [the course layouts] and made layout maps,” he says. From his pocket, he retrieved a small red folder containing his in-depth preparation notes — the distance between teeing ground and hole, hazards that lie in the way, and strategies to help him play the smart game.
In quite the parallel story to Lim’s, Lee is a fresh face. Having started golfing with his father at the age of 17, he has prior tournament experience but not with the MercedesTrophy. This led to Lee entering the competition with zero expectations, looking to do his best and having a good time more than anything.
“When I first told my family that I was joining, they said, ‘Okay, go and have fun!’” he laughs. “Even when I told my wife I would be going to Germany, her first reaction was, ‘Are you sure?’”
Playing at the national final was a true trial for both victors, neither one expecting to rise to the top of the competition. Lim recalls that many other players had been accumulating similar scores in the first half of the match. “The biggest challenge was there were quite a number of good players, many of whom I know [personally]. Fortunately, I played the second nine holes quite well … It all came down to the day’s performance.”
To top it all off, a storm pelted the coast just as the final match commenced, resulting in less-than-ideal playing conditions. “It was very windy and wet [so] we stopped for about an hour before continuing the rest of the game,” Lee mentions.
Despite the downpour, both golfers look back on the tournament with fondness. When asked about their time playing across its three courses (Forest City Golf Resort, Johor, KLGCC and The Els Club), both have only rave reviews, saying that playing on international-standard and renowned courses was an experience like no other, and an opportunity that one would find nowhere else.
The occasion to play at a cosmopolitan tournament of such a grand scale is something most golfers can only dream of, and few get to actually live out. Still, Lim and Lee appeared mostly calm when talking about what they were looking forward to in Germany. One thing that did excite them was the chance to represent Southeast Asia as a team of three with the champion from Indonesia, and to get a taste of playing on an acclaimed multinational platform.
“Hopefully, we can win the championship and make our countries and [the Southeast Asian] region proud,” champion Lim says sanguinely. “Of course, this is our ultimate goal. But we won’t put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and we want to just play the best we can.”
Putting (no pun intended) their best foot forward was the biggest takeaway that the tournament’s elite group of previous winners — Datuk Jeffrey Chia, Danny Gow and Anson Lew — had to bestow to their newest successors. After all, for players at this level, matches are much more than just another win or another trophy to take home. For them, new adventure and sights trump all, and being able to display their fervour and deft skill earned through years of tenacity among other impressive linksmen is the cherry on top.
“It’s an experience that money cannot buy,” Chia affirms. The 2019 champion started playing the game with schoolmates in the early 2000s, and has been dedicated to the sport ever since Gow and Lew, who have remained close since their partnership in Germany last year, shared similar sentiments. The pair have high hopes for the future of the Malaysian golf industry, which recently began to spring back after difficulties from the Covid-19 pandemic, and is now attracting a younger crowd.
Gow, a veteran golfer, has enthusiastic support to give youths who are starting to dip their toes into competitive waters. “Don’t give up — if you [don’t succeed] this year, try next year, and next year, and the year after that,” he says. Lew agrees, saying the MercedesTrophy was “the experience of a lifetime” — a statement driven home by the energetic spark that lit up the eyes of the three yesteryear winners as they spoke about playing with Mercedes, as if they had just landed back home after a long flight from Europe, fresh off the revelry and exhilaration of a game for the ages.
With ranges across the country coming back into full swing, golf, like many other things, has started to evolve and adapt to a shifting world. What has not changed, and is unlikely to ever, are the attitudes of its stalwarts, both old and new. Through the years, the MercedesTrophy stands as a testament to a deep love for golf, and the chance to become part of something greater than oneself.
As for what is in store for winners Lim and Lee at the World Finals, only time will tell. One thing for certain is the resolute drive (tee shot and determination) and a keenness for the fine and spectacular things in life that they epitomise, will ensure a good result — both on and off the course.
The MercedesTrophy World Finals will take place in Stuttgart, Germany from Oct 3 to 7.
This article first appeared on Aug 21, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.