Feel for Fanling fires Han's Open ambitions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 November, 1999, 12:00am

Kyi Hla Han loves tradition.

And it doesn't come much better than the times the Burmese golfer plies his trade on courses which have a good old homespun feeling to them - like the Hong Kong Golf Club at Fanling.

'I love playing there. It is old and traditional. I get a good feeling at Fanling . . . it is one of my favourite courses in Asia, like the Bukit Course in Singapore and the Royal Selangor in Malaysia,' Han said.

This week the Hong Kong-based Han, 38, will savour all that tradition in a competitive setting as he aims to turn the 41st Hong Kong Open into a triumphant homecoming. 'I first played at the Hong Kong Open in 1981. That was also the year I turned professional.

'I remember I was all excited and all psyched up to do well,' said Han, who will line up with a top-class field when the 72-hole event starts on Thursday.

Han did not do all that well at his first Hong Kong Open because he can't remember where he finished.

'All I can remember is I won some money and I was quite happy about it,' he said.

Those days are long forgotten. Today, Han is at the top of the 1999 Asian PGA Order of Merit, having pocketed US$191,030. It is the best year he has ever had.

And he wants it to end like that - ruling the roost in Asia.

While the money is welcome (it is still nothing compared with the US$7 million which world number one Tiger Woods has earned this year), Han is more concerned about finishing 1999 on top as that will give him direct entry into next year's British Open.

'A good result in Hong Kong this week will go a long way towards helping me win the Order of Merit.

'This is important as I will then earn an exemption into the main draw of the British Open and also get invites to play in the tours in the US, Europe, Australia and South Africa,' said Han, who has won one tournament this year and finished runner-up in three others.

Another reason for Han to win is that starting in 2000 a new ranking system comes into play which will include every professional golfer worldwide. Han wants to be among the top.

'The Asian PGA has become the sixth member of the International Federation of Golf which will issue world rankings next year.

'Winning the Asian PGA Order of Merit will do a great deal of good to my ranking along with the other perks,' he said.

The Asian PGA Order of Merit is decided on the amount of money a player wins.

Breathing down Han's neck is American Gerry Norquist (US$131,195) and Korean Kang Wook-soon (US$98,463).

'I have a feeling that it won't be decided until the very last tournament this year,' he said.

He believes his biggest threat is Korean star Kang, the defending Hong Kong Open champion.

Last year, Kang swept to back-to-back victories by blitzing illustrious fields at both the Hong Kong Open and the PGA Championship.

'He is playing well at the moment.

'Last week at the World Cup in Malaysia he finished with the best individual performance from Asia. I think he is in form,' said Han.

While winning this week, on what is his home turf, would be great, Han will be keeping an eye on Kang and other regulars on the Asian PGA circuit.

'It would be nice winning in Hong Kong. It would be like winning at home.

'The closest I have ever come is fifth and I hope I can do better this week,' Han said.

The top-quality field will include 1987 champion Welshman Ian Woosnam, Mark McNulty of Zimbabwe, South African David Frost, who won in 1994, Peter Baker of England and Swede Patrik Sjoland.