siem reap province – American Bryan Saltus took control Sunday at the Asian Tour’s Johnny Walker Cambodian Open golf tournament and became the first golfer to ever win a pro-golf tournament title in Cambodia with a solid overall score of 17 under par.
Following a short putt on Phokeethra Country Club’s 18th hole, the 36-year-old Californian proceeded to celebrate his first Asian Tour win by jumping into a nearby water hazard, bringing enthusiastic cheers from the hundreds of onlookers who came out for Sunday’s round.
Australian Adam Groom, who led the tourney at the end of day three, finished second at 14 under par, followed by Thailand’s Thaworn Wiratchant and Prom Meesawat, who tied for third at 11 under.
Saltus sank a whopping 12-meter putt on the par-3 third hole, making his third birdie in a row to start the match, while a visibly frustrated Groom struggled throughout the round, scoring a telling bogey on the first hole.
During the awards ceremony, Saltus dedicated his win to US cult-rock band the Grateful Dead, saying that seeing the band live 153 times had, inexplicably, inspired him to play golf.
“This is awesome. I would like to dedicate this win to Grateful Dead as they have inspired me all the way,” he said, adding that he will return for next year’s tournament.
A soaking-wet Saltus told reporters after accepting his trophy that he was overwhelmed to champion Cambodia’s first ever pro-golf tournament, saying that it’s a moment he’ll never forget.
“I’ll be holding that honor for the rest of my life,” he said, adding that he will be rewarding his Cambodian caddy with a new motorcycle today to thank her for her help.
None of the three Cambodian amateurs who participated in the event advanced to the last two days of the tournament, but 118th placed Lieutenant General Eth Savath, RCAF deputy chief of staff and secretary-general of the Cambodian Golf Federation, said that he was just happy to be there.
“I feel very good because I am not professional,” he said after finishing his round Friday at 15 over par. “[Cambodians] got more experience from the tournament.”
Nep Savath, who led Cambodia’s golfers on Thursday, scored 15 over par on Friday putting him in 120th place, while Kem Samrach notched an 11-over round, a six-stroke improvement over his day-one effort, but not enough to pull him out last place.
Sunday’s award ceremony was presided over by Minister of Tourism Thong Khon and Minister of Defense Tea Banh, who praised the tournament as a boost to the future of golf in Cambodia.
“I strongly believe that, after this tournament, the Kingdom of Cambodia will learn more…to building and improving golfing in Cambodia,” said Tea Banh, who is also chairman of the Cambodian Golf Federation.
Asian Tour’s Senior Vice President Gerry Norquist said in an interview Sunday that he was happy with how smoothly the tournament went, considering it was the first time such an event had been held in Cambodia.
Norquist said that the event could not have happened without the participation of Cambodia’s government.
“They have opened their arms in this endeavor,” he said, adding that he was confident that the event would be held in Cambodia again next year.
Norquist said that he was particularly impressed with the golfing knowledge of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who opened the tournament Thursday with a ceremonial drive.
“He asked me about some of our members by name,” he said. “The leader of a country is generally too preoccupied to be engaged with that.”