The PGA Tour Series-China will honour the life of the late Malaysian professional Arie Irawan during this week’s Haikou Championship. A moment of silence will be observed prior to the start of the tournament, while players, staff, caddies and all others in attendance will receive an “ARIE” sticker.
Arie passed away in his sleep at age 28 on Sunday while in Hainan for the Sanya Championship, the second event of the tour’s 2019 season. Although he missed the cut, Arie elected to stay on in the hotel room he was sharing with fellow tour player and good friend Kevin Techakanokboon. His plan was to then travel to Haikou, about a 90-minute train ride on the north side of Hainan Island, for this week’s Haikou Championship.
Out of deference and respect, tour officials delayed the start of the Sanya Championship final round and then ultimately cancelled it after announcing Arie’s death.
Arie’s untimely passing drew an outpouring of grief not only from his fellow Malaysians but from across the globe, underlying the amazingly positive impact that he had on people.
American pro Shoataro Ban, who performed CPR on Arie before emergency personnel arrived, noted that he always had a smile on his face: “In the times I was with him or just around him, there was always a smile on his face — whether it was playing golf, him working out or just hanging out with friends. He always had a smile.
“I think anyone who met him or knew him realized he was an extremely genuine person. He didn’t have that much to say, but he had a great heart, and his wife is just like him. Arie exemplified what it means to be a professional golfer, a husband and a friend in the true nature. I’m just devastated by this loss.”
The PGA Tour’s Todd Rhinehart, who recently returned to the United States after living in Malaysia and serving as the CIMB Classic executive director, noted it was in 2015 when Arie became more than just an acquaintance after the Malaysian qualified for the tournament.
“He was 24 at the time and was anxious and nervous to be playing in his first PGA Tour event,” Rhinehart recalled. “Over the years, I saw and talked to him at TPC Kuala Lumpur while he was practicing as well as competing in our national qualifier for the CIMB Classic. He was not only one of Malaysia’s most talented golfers, he was also an incredible young man who served as a passionate ambassador for junior golf in the country.”
“His death has been tough on all of us. Golf being such a tight-knit community, it really is a shock what has happened,” said veteran player Benjamin Lein, who became friends with Arie last year when he joined the PGA Tour Series-China.
This February in California before the start of the season, Lein put together a foursome at Industry Hills Golf Club outside Los Angeles, inviting Arie to join him and Thailand’s Gunn Charoenkul as well as Chinese star Li Haotong.
“It just felt like no matter where in the world we were together, he was always the same, friendly, happy Arie,” Lein noted.
Li agreed with that assessment. The 2014 PGA Tour Series-China Player of the Year learned of Arie’s death while preparing to play his final round at the Valero Texas Open in San Antonio.
“I can’t believe it. He was such a nice guy, and I feel like it’s so unfair,” said Li, who met Arie for the first time that week in California. “We had a great time playing. It was a really fun day, his wife was there and Gunn’s wife was there, too. It was very comfortable. He was like an old friend even though I just met him. There’s nothing to say, really. It’s just so very sad. I couldn’t believe it when I read the news.”
“Being on the road away from family is tough, especially numerous weeks at a time. It’s always nice to have someone who points out the positive in every situation to keep us going,” Lein added. “That’s what Arie did. He was a selfless friend who always made everyone else around him better in different ways. I never was able to thank him for that, but he will forever be close to my heart.”
Born on August 21, 1990, to Ahmad and Jeny Irawan, Arie took up golf at age eight. In 2006 and 2007, he finished runner-up at Faldo Series events in Malaysia and, as an 18-year-old, he won the Malaysian Amateur Stroke Play Championship. Those successes attracted attention from US college coaches and Arie elected to attend and play golf at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. While in college, Arie earned four letters, was an Academic All-American his junior year and earned his degree in management information systems. Upon graduation, he returned to Malaysia to embark on a professional golf career.
Arie’s best season as a professional came in 2015 when he won two Asian Developmental Tour tournaments — the PGM Sime Darby Harvard Championship and the ICTSI Eagle Ridge Invitational. A shoulder injury from a motorcycle accident curtailed his momentum in 2016, putting him out of action from March until mid-August that season.
In December 2017, Arie won the local PGM Tour’s season-ending Maybank Players Championship to crown his comeback. Last June, he enjoyed his best finish on the PGA Tour Series-China with a T4 finish in the Guilin Championship with wife of three weeks, Marina Malek, on his bag.
Rhinehart recalled speaking to Arie early this year, “We ran into each other and talked for 10 minutes about the status of his game. He was very excited about the upcoming season on the China Series and was hoping to have a great year to qualify for the Web.com Tour as he had spent some time in California with his swing coach and enjoyed his time there.
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Rhinehart continued. “My thoughts are about him and my prayers are with his family during this incredibly tough time.”
Perhaps Techakanokboon said it best when he described his close friend. “Arie had a lot of experience and was wise beyond his years. He really carried himself as a professional all the time. I’m going to miss him,” said the American.