Hong Kong's Dominique Bouletmay not have achieved his goal of winning a tournament on the Asian Tour but he is making a name for himself as a TV pundit, so much so that he is being labelled as "The Voice of Asian Golf". The 47-year-old talks about his playing days, how he got into broadcasting and why he thinks the Asian Tour, which is celebrating its 10th season, will continue to grow.
How did this TV commentating job come about?
I basically gave up playing in 2002 and founded my own company. I had a young family and I wasn't playing so well. However, I never thought about going into broadcasting until Derek Fung (a fellow professional golfer from Hong Kong), who was doing a few events, called and said he was too busy and couldn't do the BMW Asian Open in 2005. He asked if I could fill in and I said "yes" and it kind of started from there.
It's a bit of a switch from swinging clubs to talking about the game. Did it come naturally for you?
I never really prepared for it. I just sat there. Alan Wilkins (his fellow commentator) made my life very easy initially. I just looked at the screen and talked about what came into my head. It's what I do till this day. Thinking back about it, I've been commentating my whole life, watching sports on TV and saying things like, "why did he do that" etc. I've been doing this since I was a kid. I'm sure everyone who watches sport does the same thing.
How would you describe yourself as a golf commentator?
A lot of it depends on who you work with. Who I work with brings out different personality traits. When I worked with Alan, it was kind of loose and we joked around a little bit. Although I didn't play the game at the highest level, I understand the game, understand the thought process. I know the players. I have empathy for them and I'm not afraid to criticise in a nice way. I understand how hard the game is and how hard it is to play for a living. But at the same time, I understand there are ways to make it easier. I'm not afraid to say it's a bad shot when it really is a bad shot. Sometimes, we praise the players too much and I'm guilty of it, too. I try to keep it balanced, they're not too brilliant and they're not too bad. You've got to be honest about it. Say what comes to your mind and be yourself.
Have you rubbed any player the wrong way with something you said on air?
No one has come up to say I was wrong. Last year in India, watching Singapore's Lam Chih Bing play, I said he didn't look comfortable standing over his putts. He was missing putts all day. Someone told me Lam was a little upset. I later saw him at the practice green and I said, "Hey man, I am sorry if I had upset you but I'm just saying what I see. I see that you don't look that comfortable". I think he agreed with me and I apologised. I'm doing my job and he's doing his job. We have no problem. That's the beauty of it. None of the guys here have big egos and I'm lucky I can say things and if they are upset, they can come up to me and say I'm wrong. But I still don't feel like I'm bursting any egos as the guys out here on the Asian Tour are great. The guys from my generation know I'm pretty much a straightforward guy.
Do you have to bite your lip?
Sometimes you have to temper what you say. Mike Crowe (Asian Tour media executive producer) and I have "talk back", an alternative commentary which is what we would like to say but sometimes can't because of political correctness and stuff like that. I'm sure every commentator would like to say how he feels but we'd be out of a job by the end of the broadcast.
And compliments, are they like holes in one?
I was told no matter how good a job you do, you're not going to please everybody. There are brilliant commentators I don't like … I don't like the way they deliver their lines or I don't like their voice. I don't mind criticism as it's human nature. I have had a lot of compliments and my biggest critics are my friends who never say anything nice unless they genuinely mean it. The culture I grew up in was the more people like you, the more they take the mickey.
The Asian Tour is celebrating its 10th season. How much have you seen the game grow?
If you look at the scale of the tournaments, it's so much different. When I was playing, we probably had two live TV events. Now we have 15 or 16. The scale of the events, the marquees, the hospitality, the prize money, it's all grown immensely.
Has anything changed with the players?
The professionalism is very different. We were kind of old school, never went to the gym and didn't work out. Now you see everyone going to the gym which is reflective of all the tours. The good thing about the Asian Tour is that it's still got the friendly camaraderie, even though it's become more professional.
Who among the new generation of tour players do you think can surpass the likes of Thongchai Jaidee and Thaworn Wiratchant?
Kiradech Aphibarnrat is unbelievable. He really is a natural. He can be top 20 in the world, top 10 in fact. He's got a massive talent. Korea's Noh Seung-yul, our 2010 Order of Merit champion, is another guy who can become a top-10 player. He can go all the way.
Speaking of Kiradech, he is a big boy. Have you talked about it on air?
I was going to bring it up (during the Maybank Malaysian Open, which Kiradech won). For the longevity of his career, I think it would be beneficial [to lose weight]. But I also get the impression that if he lost a lot of weight, he might lose his game, too. We've seen that in the past with the big players. It's a dangerous one. It's not ideal to carry the extra weight he's carrying. Golf is mentally more tiring but it's also physically draining when you're playing a tough season - you've got the pro-am, practice rounds, week in and week out. But he's at a point now that he's got the luxury to plan a better schedule.
How about yourself … what held you back from winning on the old Asian circuit?
I was a mental midget! I was terrible. I watch how the top players behave now and how I behaved. They are patient. There is no way these guys are less competitive than I was but they manage their emotions on the course where I absolutely had no control.
What have been some of your worse moments?
A hundred things! I once finished with six clubs in my bag. I threw them all into the lake. At the time, I couldn't control it. I felt bad for my playing partners. I must have been a distraction to them. It takes a huge amount of discipline. I'm a social golfer now but I still can't control myself and I still throw clubs. It's pathetic. I'm 47 years old! This game drives people to do silly things. Off the golf course, my personality is totally different.
Has extended TV coverage helped players behave better?
You never saw the players through an extended period of time as telecasts those days were confined to the last six to seven holes. Even the Masters covered only the back nine until quite recently. Now, you don't miss a Tiger Woods shot, you get to see Rory McIlroy throughout his round. And you get to see their reaction after a bad shot, they just put their club back into the bag and continue walking. Because of the exposure, the guys learn a lot quicker. The young guys now have far more knowledge, swing, mental training, lifestyle, coaches, fitness. We learned how to play after we turned pro. Now, these kids are ready after they turn pro because they have all this support. It's a different game, a different era. I'm not necessarily saying it's better.
What are your thoughts about the pace of play?
It's a worry. Golf shouldn't take 4½ hours. It should take no more than 4¼, but if the course is tough and the greens are tricky, it'll take a little longer. It's a hard watch when you see the guys take a minute or a minute and a half to hit a shot. The top players react to what they see. It's an instinctive game, it's a feel game. Of course, you have the mechanics of the game to think about, but it's what you see and how you react to it.
Many are now labelling you "The Voice of Asian golf". Is it complimentary?
It's a flattering term but I'm the only guy right now. Hopefully, when we develop and have 30 to 35 tournaments in a few years, we'll add more to the team. I can't do it all. I'm looking forward to the day when we have a bigger team in our commentary box.
You get to watch and talk about all these great golfers from around the world. Do you get the itch to try to get back out there to play competitively?
It's never gone. I still love the game. Deep down, it's still my passion. There's some sense that there is some unfinished business, that I should be better than what I am but it's getting less and less. You never know. I still play the occasional local stuff to keep the juices flowing. I think it's important I still play the game, understand the technology. It's good to play with better players to see what the difference is.