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From being in the swim to enjoying the swing

Former water wonder and coach David Lim is now a social golfer with a mean game
Jul 29, 2019 5:50 AM

He comes from a post — but only just — baby-boomer generation, so it was not surprising that he considers German Bernhard Langer, 61, and American Fred Couples, 59, as his two favourite golfers.

And he marvels at the talent, attitude and pragmatic approach to things by Ernie Els and admires the tall South African’s natural swing that earned the 49-year-old the moniker "Big Easy".

But all three golfing legends will not feature in his ideal flight pairing for swimmer-turned-golfer David Lim, who watches golf on television whenever he is free. 

Unhesitatingly, he said: "I would have Tiger Woods for sure. Gary Player would be a bonus. And Jack Nicklaus a dream."

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Lim, at 53, is a couple of years younger than the baby-boomer generation. But he is at a right age to realise that "old is gold".

Thus, his choice of Nicklaus and Player and even the late Arnold Palmer, if he had been alive, as a dream foursome reflects the sentimentalism that he holds, even on his own accomplishments in his chosen sport of swimming.

Lim, Sportsman of the Year in 1986, 1988 and 1989, is best remembered for the 19 South-east Asia Games gold medals (10 individual and nine relays) he garnered through this successful routine over a 10-year period.

And the adept breaststroker-cum-freestyle water wonder made the backstroke his speciality with a 100m routine that was much talked about. 

He remain submerged for most of the swim, his head popping up only 15 metres from the walls of the swimming pools. And after the "dolphin kick" turn he disappeared again, then suddenly emerged for the dash to the finish in the races for honours, which usually turns up gold.

The retired swimmer, who was awarded the Public Service Star in 1990, had done that routine innumerable times over two lengths of many 50-metre pools from Utah to Edinburgh, Seoul to Auckland.

The 1.82-metre tall all-round athlete had also dabbled in basketball and tennis as a teenager, but swimming for the nation was a priority for the Brigham Young University (Utah) graduate. And it remains so till today.

After quitting competitive swimming following the 1991 SEA Games, he stayed with the sport as national coach, taking charge of the Singapore contingent to nine SEA Games while also running his popular swim school, SwimFast Aquatic Group.

As managing director of the company which has four centres — at ACS (Barker), Methodist Girls’ School, Singapore Sports School and St Joseph’s Institution (International) — he is kept busy with 10-hour workdays mentoring kids from the ages of four to 15.

Coupled with managing a team of foreign and local coaches at all four centres and the continual engagement with some demanding parents, he has learnt to take stress in his stride. 

All this, while providing for his homemaker wife Grace and 11-year-old daughter Madison, and caring for his 90-year-old father Anthony, who introduced him to swimming when he was six — following in the tradition of his older siblings, sister Jenny and brother Alan. 

His deep-set eyes settled easily as he leaned back comfortably at a restaurant at Sixth Avenue recently when discussing the game of golf, which is his “stress-reliever”.

What started out as a meaningful getaway from his hectic life as national coach and running his own company at 28 years old is today a game that has become a passionate hobby.

Within three months of gaining his proficiency certificate at the old Warren Golf and Country Club at Folkestone Road, Lim was handed a 22 handicap-index.

A couple of years on, he had shaved it down to 12 on the back of a long drive (averaging 225 metres) and accurate putting (three-putting is a rarity for him). 

Then, he further improved to a seven-handicap, playing once a week, mainly at the National Service Resort and Country Club.

As the years roll by, his business and family needs grew, which led to fewer playing opportunities and a resultant rise to a 13-handicap. 

But that did not prevent Lim from proffering the virtues of golf, especially its inherent values as a networking tool and soothing balm from his daily chores.

"I am not crazy or competitive to the point of feeling that I must win, but I always give of my best. I derive enjoyment from golf through friendship, camaraderie and a healthy dose of banter and ribbing," said the born competitor whose time in the pool has translated well onto the greens.

While swimming took him as a competitor to two Olympic Games (1984 and 1988), three Asian Games (1982, 1986 and 1990), two Commonwealth Games (1986 and 1990) and a host of other major championships, Lim is pleased that golf has also given him some memorable occasions to cherish.

Top on the list was the chance to play a round with former Major winner John Daly at a pro-am event in 1995 at Tanah Merah Country Club's Garden course. This opportunity arose because Lim is a member of the Celebrities Circle — a group of celebrities and athletes who to raise funds through charity and golf. 

Today, he is less involved with public duties and prefers to focus on the family, his school and the occasional "game with a small wager among friends" for a meal and good banter.

The former athlete has given much of his life to sport and is now reaping the benefits of it in another, more sociable way. He really couldn't ask for more.

Photo: Tharm Sook Wai
Location: Tanah Merah Country Club, New Tampines Course
Car: Audi Q8

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