Column | Roger Rodrigo

Published on February 6, 2018

An Officer and a Gentleman Passes

The Malaysian Team to Taiwan. L-R Harris Zainal, Lim Siew Ai, Lim Ai Lian, Victor Lim and the late Tan Kok Kee.

Former MGA secretary Tan Kok Kee is fondly remembered

He was part of the generation of sports officials who deeply cared about their athletes and the well-being of the sport.

On Friday, January 19, 2018, one such official, Tan Kok Kee, the secretary for the Malaysian Golf Association (MGA) passed away at the age of 88, after a prolonged illness.

At an earlier meeting in 2016 with former MGA president Dato’ Thomas Lee it was found that Kok Kee was already partially deaf. Yet despite his advanced age, Kok Kee continued to drive and attend golf events out of town.

Kok Kee took over the post from the late David Lee, who in turn took charge after the passing of Edmund Yong, who served the MGA for 22 years. Like the men before him, Kok Kee was actively involved with the association leading several national teams to events like the Asian Games, Nomura Cup and Putra Cup.

Tan Kok Kee loved Karaoke. Seen here with the Korean Team Manager at that time.

One of the national players who remember him well was double international Wong Hung Nung, who represented the country in football and golf.

“I spent four years playing for the national team. To me, Kok Kee was a true gentleman and concerned official. He was always talking to all the players and inquiring about our welfare,” related Hung Nung.

“He was not regimented in his dealings with players. In 1989 the SEA Games was held in Malaysia at Saujana, and the team was staying at the hotel. I requested if I could come from home every day. He gave the okay trusting me to make my tee off time promptly,” he added.

That year the Malaysian quartet of the late P. Gunasegaran, Johari Sulaiman, Saad Yusof and Hung Nung strode to the gold medal, denying strong opposition from Thailand and the Philippines. Malaysia finished with the team gold plus the individual silver and bronze from Guna and Hung Nung, an impressive outing indeed.

According to Hung Nung, Kok Kee was team manager of the national team that participated in the first-ever Asian Games in Beijing, China in 1990. The team did not figure in the medal tally where Malaysia finished with eight medals, two golds, two silvers and four bronzes.

Tan Kok Kee singing a duet with their host in Taiwan.>>

“He was always attentive to our needs. I think unlike in football where team managers rarely mix with players Kok Kee was always close,” said Hung Nung.

Initial impressions of Kok Kee can be deceiving though. Malaysia’s trailblazing LPGA veteran Lim Siew held this view.

“My first impression of Uncle Kok Kee was that of someone who was very intimidating. As a junior golfer his booming voice and strong personality was very overwhelming,” she said candidly.

“Over the years I found Uncle Kok Kee to have a big heart for juniors and always tried to help them to the best of his ability.

“He always had a ready smile and would go the extra mile to help others. He will be greatly missed by all who knew him,” concluded Siew Ai who spent 10 years on the LPGA tour.

Another former national golfer who fondly remembers him was Lim Ai Lian.

“He is a very good man who did a lot for Malaysian golf. He always gave us juniors lots of encouragement,” she said.

Ai Lian related that Kok Kee took care of the juniors really well on overseas trips. On a playing trip to Taiwan, he made sure the players, besides playing, could also go sight-seeing as well.

“Uncle Kok Kee also loved karaoke,” she revealed. Indeed one of the strongest aspects of Kok Kee’s character was the ability to connect with people old and young.

My own impressions of the man was that of a dedicated official who never forgot to smile when talking to the press even though he was not entirely amused by some of our reports.

He told me once that my report was “a bit naughty” but still smiled, and we continued to have a great relationship. Whenever I needed more facts or information, he would try his best to furnish it or tell me ways how to get it.

In so far as his attendance and punctuality he was second to none. As I hear it he came from a background of top-class management and was formerly the general manager of Lever Brothers, then a leading name in the corporate world.

In some of my discussions with Dato’ Lee, I found sadness in his voice when talk swirled to Kok Kee and his deteriorating health. This was the case of not just being officials in golf but also being friends as well.

The MGA of old was a tremendous body especially in the 80s when it was totally run by volunteers. It was unimaginable how this coterie of passionate golfers could run both the national body and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) which at that time was running the old Asian tour.

It boils down to two words –passion and dedication, traits that are absent from the current generation of officials.

I hope those who aspire to do duty for the national body will follow Tan Kok Kee’s stellar example, a true officer of the sport and a gentleman always. Rest in peace, Mr. Kok Kee.

Photo credit: From the personal photo album of former national golfer Lim Ai Lian

Roger Rodrigo

Roger Rodrigo is long in the tooth when it comes to golf journalism. Started out as a sports reporter with Sports Mirror, a weekly sports tabloid in 1981. His association with golf started as a 12-year-old holding a provisional handicap of 27 at the Sentul Golf Club. But his brush with the written word of golf took off in 1982 with the country’s first and then only golf publication, Golf Malaysia Magazine. That move teed off a career that spanned three decades, four magazine editorships and numerous articles in three newspapers, websites and magazines. There have been several highpoints, some not realised at the particular moment. In 1996, he undertook to publish an overnight newsletter with the aid of a single designer for an international event, the Volvo Masters of Malaysia. Only years later it would be known that he was the first to pioneer this concept, which became part and parcel of every international Open event to be staged in Malaysia. In 2001, he was invited to sit on the Voting Panel of the Florida-based World Golf Hall of Fame, which selected the leading international golfer of each particular year, an arrangement which lasted until 2013. In 2012, under his watch as editor of Fairways, the local golf tabloid won Silver Medal for Best Cover by the Magazine Publishers Association. Writing remains very much part of his DNA as he continues to write sports articles for The Star Metro and Golf Malaysia Magazine.