LPGA Tour veteran Kelly Tan is used to being an ambassador for Malaysia week in and week out on the LPGA Tour, rarely getting the opportunity to professionally tee it up in her home country. But the 29-year-old will get to do just that this week for the first time since 2017 as the inaugural Maybank Championship is on tap for the world’s top talent at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club.
It was announced in March that the new event would be joining the 2023 LPGA Tour schedule, and with a $3 million purse up for grabs, the 78-player field is chock full of incredible players, a list that includes major champions like Nelly Korda and Lydia Ko as well as 18 of the LPGA Tour’s 22 winners this season. As a Maybank-sponsored athlete and native Malaysian, Tan has been at the center of the event’s promotion since its inception and, maybe more than anyone else in the field is looking forward to once again getting to play in front of her friends and family.
“This event is gonna be very special for everybody, and especially for us Malaysians,” said Tan, who is from Batu Pahat. “It's a great platform for the young talents to show their talent and play against the best in the world. I got to play my very first LPGA event in Malaysia when I was 17, so it changed my life and brought me to where I am today. I'm sure this event is going to make a very significant role for this next generation, and I'm sure they're all very excited to play.”
Tan first earned LPGA Tour status for the 2014 season after finishing in a tie for 13th at the 2013 Final Qualifying Tournament as an amateur and turning professional following the final round. In her 10 years on the LPGA Tour, Tan has earned four career top-10 finishes and made $1,228,792 in career earnings. She has represented Malaysia at both the 2016 Rio Olympics and 2020 Tokyo Olympics, finishing 51st and T34, respectively.
This week at the Maybank Championship marks Tan’s 18th start of the 2023 LPGA Tour season. In her 17 previous events, she has earned one top-five result, finishing second at the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational with her playing partner Matilda Castren, and has missed 13 cuts, currently putting her at 102nd in the Race to the CME Globe, two spots outside of the top 100 players who will maintain their status for the 2024 season.
Tan is competing as a sponsor invite at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club and knows she will need to win here to earn any Race to CME Globe points, as they are not awarded to sponsor invitations without a victory in no-cut events. She won’t be teeing it up in next week’s TOTO Japan Classic and likely will not qualify for the CME Group Tour Championship, making The ANNIKA driven by Gainbridge at Pelican her last chance to secure status for next year.
But Tan, who has been in this position before, isn’t fretting too much over her current position. She knows that all you need sometimes as a professional golfer is one good week to bolster your confidence and knows how much of a difference that self-belief can make when you need to come up clutch with a lot on the line.
“It's golf. Nothing is impossible,” said Tan. “I'm on the bubble of keeping my card. Let's face the facts. Unfortunately, this event, my points will not be counted unless I win because I was a sponsor invite at a no-cut event. I will not play Japan next week, and I have an event in Florida. I don't need to do anything spectacular to save my season. There is no reason why I cannot.
“This is my second-to-last event for the season. The goal is to play good and for me to build confidence. I'm going to take this week, and I know it's going to be hard playing at home and all the expectations around us, but I think those are positive things because people believe in us. I'm going to channel that towards my positive energy and really go out there and do my best and see where I can put myself. I want to walk away from this week telling myself that, yep, that was a confidence-boosting week. Wherever that puts me, it's not a big deal for me.”
Tan is one of a handful of players with a connection to Malaysia in the field this week and will have plenty of eyes on her as the most veteran of her counterparts. Many of her fellow Malaysians have looked up to Tan for inspiration in their own golf careers and have used her as an example of what it looks like to achieve their dreams of competing on the LPGA Tour. While she’ll certainly be worrying about her own game and will be doing everything she can to give herself a shot at becoming the season’s 13th Rolex First-Time Winner, the always supportive Tan has given her younger fellow countrywomen one piece of advice for this week at the Maybank Championship, something that she is also trying to do at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club – play confidently and enjoy this moment.
“I told most of these girls around me, you know how to play golf. I'm not here to tell you how to play golf,” she said. “At the end of the day, you need to go and enjoy yourself whether you hit a good shot or a bad shot. Most of (them) are playing in very, very high confidence, and at the end of the day, that's all it takes.
“It doesn't matter if you're playing Epson Tour or Maybank Championship. If you're playing with confidence, just ride that and be confidently out there and enjoy yourself.”
"This event is going to give the next generation a chance to show their talent and possibly a life-changing moment for their journey as well."— LPGA (@LPGA) October 24, 2023
Caught up with Malaysia's own @kellytan33 ahead of the inaugural @maybankchampion! 🇲🇾 pic.twitter.com/bTdnjwtmrg