LOCAL golf continued its upward trajectory in post-pandemic, seamlessly transitioning from last year with a flourish of 10 tournaments in both the Philippine Golf Tour (PGT) and the Ladies PGT.
And a shift from stroke play competitions to the match play format provided a fitting conclusion to an intense and competitive season.
With eight different winners in the men’s tour and seven in the distaff side, seasoned campaigners showcased their prowess over the emerging talents, including a couple of top amateurs in the LPGT.
The diversity of winners reflected the level playing field in both circuits, debunking the notion that golf is exclusively a young man’s game influenced by technology.
Jhonnel Ababa and Daniella Uy emerged triumphant in the Order of Merit (OOM) derby, underscoring that, amidst the club-hopping season at the country’s various championship courses, success still hinges on hard work, discipline and a positive mindset.
Ababa, a multi-titled campaigner, clinched his first OOM title after a stellar campaign. His victory at the Philippine Masters, where he edged out 2023 top player Guido van der Valk and Joenard Rates by one at Villamor, and his five-stroke romp over Michael Bibat and Dino Villanueva in the season-ending Mimosa Plus Championship in Pampanga, solidified his top position with total winnings of P1,499,825.
The former national team standout outpaced four-time OOM winner and Caliraya Springs leg titlist Tony Lascuña, who banked P1,325,196, and two-leg champion (Forest Hills and Del Monte) Clyde Mondilla, who pocketed P1,305,250, to claim the coveted title.
“First, I want to thank God for all the blessings he has bestowed on me,” said Ababa. “Winning the OOM title for the first time did have a great impact on my career. I didn‘t expect [to win] it but it will boost my confidence for next season.”
Reflecting on his performance, Ababa appreciated the highs and lows of a highly competitive season, emphasizing moments of outstanding play while acknowledging challenges in the course of his campaign.
“When you can’t sink the ball and you’re not in shape, they’re the low moments,” Ababa said. “And the high moments were when you just can’t do anything wrong.”
“This [year] is most special because I became No. 1 in our country,” said Ababa, whose campaign was backed by Borough Lasik Center, Ping, Calatagan Golf Club and Canlubang Golf and Country Club.
The other PGT leg winners were Ira Alido (Negros), Rupert Zaragosa (Iloilo), Reymon Jaraula (Valley) and Justin Quiban (South Pacific).
Uy, a former Junior World champion, faced her own challenges early in the LPGT but rallied towards the end. Her one-stroke victory at Forest Hills, a two-shot win at Del Monte and an imposing triumph at Mimosa Plus Championship and consistent performances secured her the top spot in the OOM rankings with earnings of P808,145, surpassing Harmie Constantino, who pooled P685,500 on her victories at Luisita and Villamor Ladies Philippine Masters, and South Pacific leg champion Florence Bisera, who pocketed P611,250.
Chanelle Avaricio kicked off the season with a thrilling victory at Negros, top amateur Rianne Malixi upstaged the pros with a convincing win in Iloilo, Epson Tour campaigner Pauline del Rosario ruled the Caliraya Springs stop before another amateur, Mafy Singson, bested the pros at Forest Hills.
Both Ababa and Uy highlighted the importance of hard work and focus in their successes, providing a testament to the enduring qualities that lead to golfing triumphs.
As the season concluded with a match play championship at The Country Club, where Luisita leg winner Miguel Tabuena, coming off a grueling, month-long campaign on the Asian Tour, overcame fatigue with stirring victories to dethrone Lascuña in the men’s finale.
Mikha Fortuna, on the other hand, showcased her dominance by overpowering amateur Laurea Duque to claim her first professional victory.
With multiple winners and exciting developments, local pro golf emerged as the true winner of the season. The organizing Pilipinas Golf Tournaments Inc., with long-time golf sponsor International Container Terminal Services Inc., is gearing up for a more extensive edition in the coming year, with focus on enhancing the junior golf development program under the Junior PGT banner, further fueling anticipation for a full-fledged return of the sport in 2024.