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Friday, 17 June 2016

RISE OF THE UNDERDOGS


RISE OF THE UNDERDOGS
                                                 
-By Chuah Choo Chiang

Let’s talk about football for a change. And by now, I’m absolutely certain every sports fan around the world would have truly been blown over by the fairy-tale rise of Leicester City, who was crowned champions of the English Premier League in May. Twelve months ago, Leicester barely survived the relegation battle to stay afloat in the top tier and a scandal which erupted during a pre-season tour in Thailand did not help matters as far as their image was concerned. But sporting dramas sometimes provide the feel-good twist which defines both the detractors and silences the critics. With a new team manager, Claudio Ranieri on board followed by some astute summer buys, the Foxes began to outwit the bigger teams and lo and behold, the 5000-1 rank outsiders were soon popping the bubbly in celebration of one of the greatest ever sporting upsets in the world. Well before you think that this column should be appearing in Four Four Two magazine rather than a golf takeaway, the whole idea of marveling about Leicester’s stunning success was to simply drive home a point – that underdogs do have their days in the sun. 

In sporting annals, there have been so many well-scripted sporting upsets over the past few decades. And everybody loves a David vs Goliath tale. In boxing, there was James Buster Douglas’ knockout win over Mike Tyson, Boris Becker’s win at Wimbledon as a 17-year old first-timer in tennis, Japan’s upset victory over South Africa in rugby’s World Cup last year, Greece’s shocker at football’s Euro 2004. The list goes on… The game of golf has also witnessed many pleasant surprises. In recent RISE OF THE UNDERDOGS By Chuah Choo Chiang Soomin Lee times, there was John Daly’s magical triumph at the 1991 PGA Championship, where as the ninth alternate to get into the field following a spate of withdrawals, the former Wild Thing, who reportedly drove overnight to Hazeltine, produced a remarkable three-shot victory which would stake his claim in golf’s folklore. From an Asian golf perspective, Korea’s Y.E. Yang will forever be remembered and celebrated for toppling Tiger Woods in the 2009 PGA Championship where he outduelled the then invisible American to become Asia’s first Major champion. 

Woods has never lost a Major title when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead but Yang, an Asian Tour alumni and now an honorary member, was not intimidated as he took the tiger by the tail and prevailed in one of the golf’s greatest upsets. The defeat has left Woods stuck on 14 Major wins, four shy of the record held by Jack Nicklaus, and he’s not been able to increase the tally over the past seven years which have been littered by a sex scandal and a spate of injuries and surgeries. With the privilege to be right in the thick of the action with the Asian Tour, this scribe has enjoyed watching and chronicling the emergence of many stars.From Thongchai Jaidee to Jeev Milkha Singh, Arjun Atwal to K.J. Choi, Y.E. Yang to Anirban Lahiri, Miguel Tabuena to Kiradech Aphibarnrat, there is a sense that the talent tap in Asia will continue to flow freely. These days, Asian Tour golfers aspire to reach for the stars, and they don’t just speak about only winning in tournaments at home or around the region. Instead, they now talk about winning the tournaments and Major championships. When such confidence emerges from this new generation of Asian players, which stems from a growing self-belief and  confidence, it is rather misplaced that some golf pundits have chosen to water down their dreams rather than congratulate them for their determination and desire to win on the big stage. 

Over a two week spell in late April and early May, Korea’s Jeunghun Wang and Soomin Lee, who have both cut their professional teeth on the Asian Tour, emerged victorious in European Tour tournaments in Morocco and China respectively. Two more wins for the underdogs. Entering both events on sponsor’s invitations, Wang, 20, and the 22-year-old Lee showed great courage to triumph on international soil and atone for heart-breaking losses previously in their search for career breakthrough wins. The likes of Indian legend Jeev have predicted that Wang, for one, could go on to become a Major champion in the near future. Is this misplaced confidence or sheer aspiration by the Asian Tour stars? Let’s just get this straight – underdogs can rule in sports. 

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