David Choong was born with the name of Choong Ewe Leong, on April 5, 1929, in Penang, Malaysia. He was the second son of a wealthy Chinese Malaysian family headed by his parents, Datuk Choong Eng Hye and Datin Ho Guat Im. David and his younger brother, Ewe Beng who was later known as Eddy Choong, attended the Penang Free School. The two brothers spent their free time playing badminton and the Straits Times reported the elder Choong as “the Penang Junior Champion” who played for the Malayan state in inter-state matches in their November 1949 edition. Both brothers decided to go to London to study law at Cambridge University in the 1950s.
Their presence on European soil permitted the Choong brothers to participate in the major tournaments all around the continent. They made an appearance in various county championships in England. David’s first known results were at the Hampshire County Badminton Championships in early February 1949 where he double crowned in the Men’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles with N.B. Radford and N.F. Hastings respectively. His partner, Radford, stopped Choong from tripling crowning at the event by snatching away the Men’s Singles crown with the scores of 15-12, 15-13.
A few days later, David attended the Somerset County Championships where he won his first known Men’s Singles title. He took the crown from English international H.J. Wingfield by defeating him, 15-4, 15-12. David’s victory was reported by the Bath Weekly Chronicle and Herald in their February 12, 1949 edition that “E.L. Choong, the Far Eastern exponent who has been doing so well in this country, took the men’s trophy from H.J. Wingfield in straight sets.” From this statement, it is apparent that David must have been active in these county championships before his first reported title. Wingfield then teamed up with A.B. Renton to get his revenge on David. In the Men’s Doubles final, Wingfield and Renton triumphed over David and his partner, M. Robinson, with the scores of 12-15 15-11 15-0 to win a Somerset County title.
David was definitely on a roll for titles as the archives show similar results in 1949 and 1950 at the Middlesex County Championships, West Sussex Championships, Somerset County Championships and Wimbledon Open. By now, David was not the only Choong to have raised some eyebrows. Fred Bundle wrote in 1959, “After the war (…) arrived with a vengeance in the form of the Choong family, two brothers, Eddy and David, and their cousins, Robert Choong and his petite sister Amy (…) British badminton owes a great debt to the Choong family. Eddy with his spectacular, cheerful play, Robert with his smashing and David with his tactical doubles play – not forgetting the clever net play of Amy – did much to dispel the idea in England that badminton was a “soft” game.”
At the 1949 French Open, David’s first truly international tournament, he double crowned in the Men’s Singles and Mixed Doubles with A. Lehmeier. At the following French Open, he upped his performance another notch and triple crowned with new partners, John Newland and Audrey Stone.
David started the year of 1951 with a Men’s Doubles title at the Scottish Open with his brother, Eddy. Eddy doubled at the event with a second title in Men’s Singles. Two months later, David was set to meet Eddy in singles draw at the All England but the encounter never happened as David withdrew. Eddy’s path in Men’s Singles ended at the semi-final stage after being stopped by compatriot, Ong Poh Lim but it was in Men’s Doubles that the Choong brothers had a spectacular showing.
The Choong brothers were in for a rough ride en route to their first All England title. They had an early encounter with the tenacious Danish duo of Jørn Skaarup and Paul Holm. Both players were All England titles holders but did not share a title as a pair. Regarding the match, the great badminton historian, Pat Davis, reported, “Holm’s genius was at its best, and it required the superb generalship of David (EL) Choong to rescue the match out of the fire (17-14, 8-15, 18-13).”
The Choongs encountered an equally hard obstacle in the final round. As brilliantly narrated by Davis, “The Choongs are known as aggressive stroke-makers. But they were outmatched in this direction in the final by both Ong and Marjan, both of whom have splendid smashes and are very quick indeed on their feet. The Choongs were put on the defensive continually (…) There was one rally in which he (Eddy) returned smashes from Ong’s racket five times in a row when actually sitting on the floor! Eventually David was able to rescue his brother and the Choongs actually won the point. So it went on to the great enjoyment of the large gallery. To the applauding public Eddy was the complete hero; to the cognoscenti, the palm of success was granted to the quieter and less dramatic David (9-15, 15-7, 15-10).”
The Choongs made the most of 1952 and 1953 by winning their second and third consecutive All England once again as a pair. In addition to those prestigious titles, they cemented a reign of two consecutive French Opens, two consecutive Irish International titles, and two consecutive Scottish Open titles and one Danish Open in 1953. Davis who was a fan of the brothers said that “They brought skill, thought, training and joy to the game, as well as speed and sportsmanship, fun and fireworks.”
Whilst the Choongs were establishing themselves as the top Men’s Doubles pair, David was busy collecting extra titles in Mixed Doubles with various partners: 1952 Danish Open with Tonny Ahm, 1953 All England with June White and 1953 Scottish Open with Nancy Horner. Davis attributed David’s success in Mixed Doubles to his qualities as “a master tactician.” In an interview with the Toronto Star during a trip to Canada, David said, “There’s only one way for improvement in badminton players. They must travel a great deal, play in various places and see how others play. Otherwise they don’t see enough variety and their game becomes stereotyped.” David believed that was the strength of his success: “If game ‘A’ doesn’t work, I use ‘B’ and so on.”
At the Malayan Open held in August 1952, David took leave from his brother and partnered with Law Teik Hock. They were a scratch pairing which surprisingly defeated the previous title holders, Ong and Marjan, to win the tournament. The reporters at the Straits Times were more than impressed with the winning duo’s achievements and especially with David’s play: “It was a tough battle and David and Law, playing brilliantly, scored a deserving triumph 14-17; 18-13 and 15-5. (…) David Choong lived up to his U.K. reputation in the men’s doubles match. He was as lithe as a ballet dancer in his movements round the court, and deadly with his smashes and drops.”
In their two years of their partnership from 1954-1955, David and Eddy collected more titles amongst which were the 1954 Norwegian International, 1954 Wimbledon Open, 1955 Dutch Open, 1955 German Open.
David continued to win titles in all three of the events he could enter, although with various partners. His last known titles were won at the 1955 German Open in Mixed Doubles with Annelise Hansen; 1955 Swiss Open in Men’s Doubles with Richard Lee and Men’s Singles; 1956 Swiss Open in Men’s Doubles with Lee; 1957 French Open in Men’s Doubles with Ferry Sonneville and Mixed Doubles with Sonia Cambril and 1957 Middlesex Championships in Men’s Doubles with Oon Chong Teik.
David’s last title with his brother was won at the 1957 German Open in Bonn. The year of 1957 was also the culmination of his law studies in England as Choong Ewe Leong was one of “eight Malayans to be called to bar” in July 1957. He was admitted to the Lincoln’s Inn.
David returned to his native Penang in 1958.
His last known participation in a tournament was at the 1958 Malayan Championship in May. David suffered an early loss in the preliminary rounds and publicly announced his retirement in September 1958.
Despite being an elite all rounded player, David never participated in Malaya’s first three successful Thomas Cup campaigns even though he was invited by the Badminton Association of Malaysia (BAM). On at least two occasions (1952 & 1955), the Choongs were invited to the training camp on condition that they pay for their own trip from England.
After his playing career, David Choong followed his father’s footsteps and became involved in politics. He was elected as the sole member of the Alliance party amidst Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) members at the Penang City Council.
After his retirement from badminton, David became more involved with other sports. This was not surprising as even before he left for England, David played for Penang Free School’s cricket, rugby and badminton teams. He even won the 100 yards, 220 yards, the high and long jumps at a competition at his school in 1947. During his studies at Cambridge, David “represented his college (Trinity) at soccer (as a centre-forward), table-tennis and squash” from 1949 to 1952. Several years after he returned to Penang, David became the youngest-ever President of the Football Association of Penang in 1962.
In 1967, four of the Choong brothers, Eddy, David, Ewe Seong, Ewe Eong, donated 10,000 Malaysian dollars to the Penang Free School to create a scholarship “to mark the 40th anniversary of their parents.”
David further demonstrated his generosity and sense of justice when he advocated for pay equality as early as in 1964! As an Alliance city councillor, he had the connection to bring his proposal of equal pay for both men and women city employees to the attention of the City Council. He was quoted as saying to his colleagues: “We should not wait until our women employees ask for it.”
David’s sense of justice also manifested on the world badminton scene. While he was still competing on the international circuit, David became a member of the IBF Council in 1949. As soon as he became a member, Choong began pushing for the abolition of the “wood shot fault.” During his time, shots played off the frame of the racket were considered a fault and players were often penalized as it was difficult for an umpire to differentiate between a wood shot and a slice. He served on the IBF Council until he returned to Penang in 1958. After settling down in Penang, Choong became a BAM Council member in 1961. He was instrumental in convincing the rest of the council that “Malaya must argue fully the pros and cons for the abolition of this rule and convince the other countries that it would be for the betterment of the game to have a change.” His tireless efforts paid off in 1963 when the IBF voted 60 to 30 in favor of the abolishment of the wood shot fault. The rule change was welcomed by many players who felt that the rule was unfair as well as detrimental to the sport.
In 1996, David suffered a stroke and recovered.
David Choong was inducted into the IBF Hall of Fame in 1998. He was also awarded many honorary titles by the State of Penang, such as the Order of the Defender of the State (Darjah Setia Mulia Pangkuan Negeri - DSPN), the Meritorious Service Medal (Pingat Perkhidmatan Yang Jasa Kebaktian – PJK) and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (Pingat Kelakuan Terpuji - PKT).
In 2002, David suffered from a second stroke and was in a coma for 9 years. He passed away at the age of 82 years old on September 10, 2011, in Tanjung Tokong, Penang. At the time of his passing, David was survived by his wife, three sons and a daughter.
1998 – IBF Hall of Fame
Dato David Choong was awarded many honorary titles by the State of Penang, such as the Order of the Defender of the State (Darjah Setia Mulia Pangkuan Negeri - DSPN), the Meritorious Service Medal (Pingat Perkhidmatan Yang Jasa Kebaktian – PJK) and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (Pingat Kelakuan Terpuji - PKT).
BIBLIOGRAPHY & REFERENCES
Badminton – The Complete Practical Guide (Pat Davis)
Dr Oon Chong Teik: Shuttlecock and Stethoscope – The Memoirs of an Extraordinary Sportsman
Eddy Choong Biography
Portsmouth Evening News (February 2nd, 1949)
Guinness Book of Badminton (Pat Davis)
International Badminton – the first 75 years
Teach Yourself Badminton (Fred Brundle)
The Nottingham Journal (February 3, 1953)
The Straits Times (November 8, 1949)
The Straits Times (August 4, 1952)
The Straits Times (May 23, 1954)
The Straits Times (November 22, 1961)
The Straits Times (February 23, 1962)
The Straits Times (July 4, 1963)
The Straits Times (April 18, 1964)
The Straits Times (January 23, 1967)
The Sun Daily (April 3, 2012)
Toronto Star (January 18, 1954)
Toronto Star (February 11, 1954)
Western Daily Press and Bristol Mirror (February 6, 1950)
-- By Yves Lacroix