Matt Ballard grew up on the Gold Coast, played professionally on numerous Tours for 14 years and coached former World No.1 Adam Scott. In January last year, Ballard moved his family to Singapore to take over the reins as National Coach for the Singapore Golf Association. We caught up with the proud Aussie to learn more about his profession and life in the city-state.
You've organised Zoom chats with the Singapore squad, Steve Williams, Michael Campbell, and C.T. Pan. How did that come about and what have your players taken from the conversations?
It’s been exciting for our squad to learn from these people. It came about by simply asking them, nothing ventured nothing gained. I had a relationship with Steve Williams while working with Adam Scott, he was very giving of his time and shared so many knowledge bombs for our athletes from his days caddying for Greg Norman and Tiger woods for 150 Tour wins. The main reason was to keep our student athletes engaged during this time at home in lockdown. We have a few more up our sleeve who we will be interviewing in coming weeks, which I’m excited about hosting. The take away golf nuggets our squad have been able to consume and digest from these conversations have been so valuable. The next step is taking action on them when we are allowed back on course.
Are there any language or cultural barriers teaching in Singapore?
English and Chinese are the main languages here. They have a hybrid slang they call “Singlish” which has been fun to learn the nuances of. It is supposed to be hybrid of Singaporean and English. That has been fun swapping Aussie slang with Singlish slang with our squad members. They try to say ‘g’day mate, how ya goin’?’ to me while I try to talk back to them in Singlish. Always gets a few laughs both ways.
What do you miss most about living in Australia?
Family and the beaches and Aussie sport – NRL and AFL – and public access courses. Not to mention a good pub chicken parmigiana or meat pie.
Where do you see yourself living in 10 years?
I asked this exact question to my squad yesterday in a goal-setting Zoom chat. It’s not easy for many to answer this, but for me, I will be 53 then. I’d love to have taken some Singaporeans to universities in the States, Tours in Europe, America or Asia, or represent Singapore in the Olympics during my time here – and if my body is able, I would not mind diving back into playing golf in seniors. As for where I see myself living, we are happy here for the moment. No immediate plans to live elsewhere. I am very content coaching elite players right now for the foreseeable future. Lots will depend on our kids and schooling. But it could be Australia, USA or Singapore. Those would be my three likely destinations. I'm sitting on the fence (laughs).
Laguna National and Sentosa are the standouts for me. Laguna is where my high performance training facility is located and my office is based – drop in and say hello if anyone from Australia is visiting (laughs) – and is first class. There are 36 holes with two contrasting courses. The Masters and Classic courses are rated in the top courses in Asia.
Sentosa has 36 holes which are both ranked in the top 50 in world. The playing conditions are ridiculously good on both and they are also accessible to play for visitors, although the green fee ranges between $200 and $400.
Who are some young Singaporean players to look out for in the future?
We have plenty of talented student/athletes – and I use this term often because that’s what they are: students first always here in Singapore then athletes second.
Brayden Lee is 13 years of age and recently won an overseas junior event at the end of 2019 in Jakarta, shooting bogey-free 67 on the final round on an Asian Tour course called Pondok Indah. Which is super impressive at 13 years of age. Not sure I could break 90 when I was 13 let alone bogey-free five under.
We have our highest ranked World Amateur Golf Ranking player James Leow who is at ASU in Arizona. He almost won the Asia-Pacific Amateur in China last year and finished tied fifth, two shots out of the playoff. He also won the gold medal at the Southeast Asian Games, winning the individual title in the Philippines. Our best female golfer is Jen Goh who is a supreme athlete and can strike the ball as well as our best males with the same club head speed.
Those last two players are our best ‘professional amateurs’ because they are already doing what it takes to take their game to next level. The future is bright for them and we have many others who are looking to follow in their footsteps. Hopefully I can play a small part in their development and guide them to more success globally.