KUALA LUMPUR: Three world-class golf tournaments, three exciting and yet diverse destinations and a whopping US$26.5 million in total prize money on offer – welcome to the PGA TOUR’s annual October fest.
It is becoming a wonderful tradition for the game in the Far East when fans welcome and celebrate the best golfers on the planet, thanks largely to the PGA TOUR bandwagon which rolls into town in successive weeks with the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES in South Korea and World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China.
Mega events attract the biggest stars of the game who deliver the glitz, glam and fireworks on the fairways and it promises to be a glorious stretch of tournaments in a region widely acknowledged as the game’s biggest growth opportunity.
From Dustin Johnson to Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka to Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari to Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Reed to Rory McIlroy, many of these superstars have punched their tickets to Asia in chase of top dollar, early-season 2018-19 FedExCup points and ultimately be a part of a TOUR which is driving the growth of the game around the world.
“The PGA TOUR is a global organisation, we’ve got a global membership and we are an important part of a global sport,” said Jay Monahan, PGA TOUR Commissioner.
The US$7 million CIMB Classic kick-starts the festivities at TPC Kuala Lumpur from Oct 11-14, with veteran star Pat Perez defending his title against a stellar cast which includes 2017 FedExCup winner Justin Thomas, himself a double CIMB Classic champion in 2015/16.
The US$9.5 million CJ CUP, the newest addition to the PGA TOUR’s Schedule last season, will see Thomas returning to Jeju island in search of a fourth win in the region before Asia’s lone World Golf Championships event, the WGC-HSBC Champions, concludes the festivities with Justin Rose, the title holder, headlining the starry field in Sheshan International Golf Club.
When Monahan visited the inaugural CJ CUP last year, he told the Korean media that the TOUR hopes to inspire many more golfers into the sport, which reportedly now has more than 80 million people playing the game globally. Asia’s growing middle-class segment is expected to raise the figures in the years to come.
“It’s an honour to be in this golf crazed market (South Korea) and it really is a remarkable market place for golf. I think as you look to today and look to the future and in fact if you look to the past, 10 years from now and beyond, we hope we are inspiring a new generation of fans and new generation of players by having the best players of the world here in South Korea for THE CJ CUP,” said Monahan.
The stars too have also embraced the TOUR’s vision with both hands. Not only do they enjoy the opportunity to perform in front of new fans, the diverse cultures from one city to the next has been a strong pull in their decisions to venture abroad.
“The game is so global now,” said Perez, who won the CIMB Classic by four shots last year. “I think it's awesome that the TOUR’s expanded outside the United States. I think it's important for the game. When I was coming up, the game wasn't that global. But I think there're so many great new, young players worldwide that it's important to get all these kids or players together because you can see there's so much competition going on.”
Xander Schauffele, the 2017 Rookie of the Year, epitomizes the game’s facet best. “I have a very international background … my dad's half French, half German. My mom's Taiwanese, grew up in Japan. So it's cool that golf has allowed me to start here in Malaysia, then Korea, then China. If you want to be one of the best players in the world, you have to be a global player. You have to collect fans in different countries and play well in different countries.”
Additionally, the PGA TOUR’s collaboration with other golf bodies including the Asian Tour, Korean PGA and China Golf Association have provided positive influences as well, as explained by India’s Anirban Lahiri. “I think this is a great, great platform. A lot of players, of the 10 guys who qualified (from the Asian Tour for CIMB Classic), I think there's a whole bunch who could contend. I learned so much from my first two or three times that I played this event. It also got me a chance to gauge what the level of golf is and where I needed to take my golf and elevate to that level so that I could be full time on the PGA TOUR. For a lot of the young players, it will be the first step. But you never know where that path leads, so it's great,” said Lahiri, now a regular on the PGA TOUR.
Monahan is convinced the PGA TOUR’s footprint in Asia can further contribute towards the game’s growing popularity. “One of the six tenets to our mission statement is to grow the game, and any time we are actively growing, diversifying, developing the game, opening new markets, hopefully everybody that's involved in the game is benefitting,” he said.
* Chuah Choo Chiang is Senior Director, Communication of the PGA TOUR and is based at TPC Kuala Lumpur