Former Asian Tour executive Kyi Hla Han dies at 61

Former Asian Tour Executive Chairman Kyi Hla Han (chee la haan), a beloved figure in Asian golf who tried to shape the Asian Tour in the image of the PGA Tour, died on February 19 . He was 61 years old.

The Asian Tour said he died in Singapore after undergoing cancer treatment. He is survived by his wife and two daughters.

“Asian golf has lost one of its greatest players, its greatest personalities and its greatest leaders,” said current commissioner and general manager Cho Minn Thant.

Han, who was featured in Golfweek in 2007, was the bridge between the humble beginnings and struggles of the Asian Tour and his rise up the global golf pecking order.

Han was born in Burma, known today as Myanmar, the son of a diplomat who was transferred to the United States as a military attaché when Han was 2 years old. Soon he joined his three brothers and father on the golf course, developing his interlocking grip after reading Jack Nicklaus’ “Golf My Way.”

Han’s family moved to Manila in the early 1970s when he was 9 years old. The following year, he said he won 11 titles in a row against players four years his senior, nurturing his dream of one day playing on the PGA Tour. Han represented Burma at the 1980 World Cup in Bogota, Colombia. He turned pro when he checked in for the event, earning him bye status on the old Asian circuit, and soon cashed a check for $3,000. Han has won 12 tournaments, including the Singapore Open in 1994 and the Volvo China Open in 1999.

Han was nicknamed “the Asian Ian Woosnam” both for the physical resemblance – short and powerful – and for his thunderous drives. Recalls Iain Steel, a Malaysian-born Asian Tour member: “Growing up, Kyi Hla was ‘the man’ in Asia, the guy we looked up to, the name every golfer knew.

Han was a trailblazer, one of the first Asians to travel overseas and compete. It averages 35 events a year, playing in Asia from February to April; in Europe from May to September; and in Australia from October to January.

When Han won the 1999 Volvo China Open, his father rode all four rounds with him. That season, Han won $204,211 and the Tour’s Order of Merit.

This earned him exemptions for the 2000 World Golf Championships – American Express Championship in Spain and the British Open in St. Andrews. A photo of Han standing by the Swilcan Bridge has adorned his office wall for years. He missed the cut, but that doesn’t matter now.

“I said to our photographer ‘Come right behind me. . . . This is the photo I want,” Han says of her precious moment captured in time.

Madasamy Murugiah (second from left) with Kyi Hla Han (center) and other Handa Singapore Classic partners Frederic Jenni from Pan Pacific (left), Andrew Kwa from SGA (second from right) and Dominic Ang from OCC (to the right).

Known for his sunny disposition, infectious zest for life, and constant talkativeness, Han acted like everyone was his friend. He attended an American school and said his English was better than his Burmese, a skill that allowed him to become the de facto spokesperson for Asian players.

Han tried the PGA Tour Q-School seven times but never made it. After retiring from competitive golf in 2004, Han joined the tour as a commissioner. In 2006, he became the Tour’s first Asian executive chairman and stepped down in 2016.

During his tenure, he helped promote events like the Singapore Open as an event that attracted marquee players, the HSBC Champions as a golf world championship event from 2009 and the CIMB Classic became the Tour’s first co-sanctioned event with the PGA Tour.

To honor him, the Asian Tour will create a Kyi Hla Han Future Champion Award to help develop juniors and golf in Asia.