By Calvin Koh
It was his longest layoff from tournament golf. For close to seven months, Miguel Angel Carballo did not tee up in a professional golf tournament due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, the Argentinean found comfort and familiarity in his adopted home, Malaysia, more than 9,000 miles away from Bahia Blanca where his wife and two daughters live.
The ‘tranquility, culture and good people of Malaysia’ made it an easy decision for Carballo to set up his home away from home in Kuala Lumpur when he decided to look east and seek his fortunes in Asia. Specifically, the H20 apartment in Ara Damansara, Petaling Jaya was where he had lived since March. But with no certainty in sight with regards to his playing schedule in Asia, it was time for Carballo to bid farewell to a country which will hold countless fond memories for him.
“There will be a lot of things I’ll miss about this country. I made several good friends, the hospitality, facilities like the gym, pool at my apartment, just too many things to list down.
“I thought the situation would improve here in Asia but it has been so difficult. It’s so tough for everyone. I don’t think anyone would have ever imagined this was going to happen and drag on for so long,” mused Carballo, just a few days before flying off from KLIA on October 10.
In an altered world where it is crucial to adapt, Carballo, a former PGA Tour player who has won on numerous tours worldwide, kept himself physical fit by going to the gym. He was elated when golf was among some of the activities which were permitted to resume in May.
“It was nice to go back to the golf course again even if it was a social game with many of my friends. It is different from competing in a professional tournament but at least I enjoyed the bonding with my friends while keeping myself sharp at the same time,” said the 41-year-old.
“I’ve never won any Order of Merit in my career before so, it was nice to end 2018 with the Asian Development Tour Order of Merit trophy which I was presented with at Glenmarie Golf & Country Club. It got even better in 2019 when I won the Singha Laguna Phuket Open followed by the Indonesian Open. I even represented my country at the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. I was really hoping to do even better this year but, unfortunately, it was not meant to be.”
The Covid-19 pandemic might have wreaked havoc on Carballo’s plans but the lack of playing opportunities also meant that he could slow things down a notch and take time to explore Malaysia with his friends.
“I got to know more about other places like Penang, Ipoh, Pangkor Island. I enjoyed it so much. There’s just so much to explore in Malaysia with the culture, food, activities and history.”
Carballo’s sojourn in Malaysia might have added spice to his life. However, he confesses sheepishly that he still prefers to err on the side of caution when it comes to spicy food.
“When I first came over, it was really nice to see so much variety in the food culture here. We eat stuff like pasta, barbequed meat, steaks in Argentina. I enjoy the wide variety of food in Malaysia like Mee Mamak, Roti Canai, Nasi Lemak but you know, I still cannot take the spices yet. I’m still trying!” he laughed.
While Carballo is threading cautiously on the spice level in his diet, he still has the fire in his belly to excel on the golf course, having worked his way up towards the higher echelons of the game through sheer grit and determination.
After all, life was tough when he was growing up. Money was scarce but he was rich with talent. The fifth of eight children, Carballo learned how to swing a golf club with a tree branch and retrieved balls from ponds just to put food on the table.
Carballo has always been known as a fighter. His never-say-die attitude showed when he staged a remarkable comeback to overturn a six-shot deficit and win the Bank BRI Indonesia Open on the Asian Tour last year.
But the Covid-19 pandemic is now proving to be a tough challenge, for which he admits he does not have a strategy … unlike the challenges he faced on the golf course.
“It’s a very difficult situation with the Covid-19 virus now and all we can do is to hope that the situation improves,” said Carballo. “While I’ll miss my time here in Malaysia, I’m looking forward to seeing my wife and two girls again and giving them a big hug. Something I cannot do over the phone!”
It will be a long-awaited reunion for Carballo and his family. And as he puts a bookmark on the Asian chapter of his golfing career, Carballo knows that it will be goodbye, but not farewell, Malaysia.
“I don’t know when I’ll be back but, hopefully when the situation gets better, I’ll be back for sure.”