Written by Joy Chakravarty
It was the week before the 2019 Masters. Ervin Chang had just shot a superb second-round 64 at the Mason Rudolph Championship in Franklin, Tenn., helping his Liberty University team move into contention. He was excited and looking forward to a strong final round before easing into a full week of watching the telecast from Augusta National Golf Club.
And then things went horribly wrong for the 21-year-old Malaysian.
On April 7, Chang woke up to the news that his mentor and close friend, Arie Irawan, tragically passed away in his sleep while playing a PGA Tour Series China event thousands of miles away in Sanya.
One of Malaysia’s popular professionals, Arie was just 28 when he died of natural causes in his sleep that night.
“I just could not believe it. I wept the whole day. I have no idea how I played the round that day…Arie would have wanted me to play, I guess. I shot a 71 and it was the most difficult round of my life,” said the rising Malaysian star who is in contention this week at five under par following the second round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
This week, Chang is playing in Arie’s memory. In a championship that is organised by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A, it seems just the right thing to do.
“To be honest, I remember him every time I play golf,” said the 85th-ranked player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings with his eyes welling up. “But the AAC is the one of the biggest tournaments that I play all year and I want to do well for him.
“He was perhaps the most influential person in my golf career. Arie was the most selfless person you could find. He always had time for me.
“Whenever I am playing a tournament and representing Malaysia, I play for him. I just hope he will be proud of whatever I do in my career.”
It was a relationship that developed over time and Arie was the first person Chang would call whenever he had trouble with his golf swing.
“I first met him as a junior many years ago when the Malaysian Golf Association did a clinic with him. He was great with about 10 of us kids and made us fall in love with the game more. He then went to college in the U.S. and we lost touch for a while,” reminisced Chang.
“Several years later, he came back to Malaysia, turned professional and was practicing at The Mines course one day. I was a bit hesitant to interrupt his practice, but my father said I should go and say hello. I walked up to him and it was like old times.
“From then on, he was my mentor and someone I could call anytime when I had any issue with my game, or with any life situation.”
There were many great pieces of advice Arie passed on to Chang that he has tried to make a part of his golf routine.
“One thing he’d always say was ‘golf is a tough sport and you should try to enjoy it as much as possible.’ That is a mindset I try to have for every round that I play now,” said Chang, winner of the Kuala Lumpur Amateur Open and Singapore Open Amateur Championship last year.
“More than anything else, I never forget how much time he had for me. I want to be like him. I have adopted a few junior players back home and I try to help them as much as possible. Hopefully, they will remember me as fondly as I remember Arie.”