Featured Gallery – Asian Tour

Tour Insider: Week of the PGA Championship


 

By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional 

This week’s PGA Championship will be held at the Bethpage Black Course on Long Island, New York, a publicly owned course which hosted the U.S. Open in 2002. It was the first public course to host the U.S. Open then.

At 7,459 yards and par-70, it is known to be one of the toughest tests in Major Championship golf and it famously has a disclaimer by the clubhouse stating: “Warning. The Black is an extremely difficult course which we recommend only for highly skilled golfers”.

This week the Black will definitely see a field full of highly skilled golfers, and while the 3 ½ to 4 inch rough may not be as high and thick as during a U.S. Open, it will still be quite a challenge for the world’s best golfers. The fairways are expected to be cut to similar widths as at the 2009 U.S. Open, and finding them will be very important.

So how difficult is the course going to play? It is a fact that in the two U.S. Open Championships played at Bethpage Black, in 2002 and 2009, it played as the most difficult course on the respective PGATOUR seasons in relation to par.

In the two FedEx Cup play-off events held at the Black in 2012 and 2016 it was the 16th and 12th hardest, much of the easier scoring thanks to the course being played as par-71 instead of par-70 as at the U.S. Opens.

The main challenge of this course is said to be tee-to-green, since the greens are relatively flat with gentle slopes. The players will also want to avoid the deep greenside bunkers that saw a below 50% sand-save percentage last time a FedEx Cup play-off event was held here in 2016.

The general opinion is that this course heavily favors the longest hitters, and this may be even more true this year with the event played quite early in the season for the U.S. northeast. If the conditions remain soft as expected, the course will play to its full length.

The weather forecast is for temperatures ranging between 10-20*C, with showers and gusty winds forecast for Thursday morning.

Tiger Woods of the United States

My two star-player picks and why:

There is no doubt that Tiger Woods will be one of the favorites to hoist the Wanamaker Trophy this Sunday following his epic comeback win at the Masters Tournament last month.

Having finished second to Brooks Koepka in the 2018 PGA Championship, Woods has been first, second and tied-sixth in his last three Majors played.

He won the U.S. Open here in 2002 when he was the only player under par at the end of the week, winning on a score of three-under-par 277 to beat Phil Mickelson by three shots.

In the 2009 edition of the event Woods finished in a tie for sixth-place, four shots behind the winner Lucas Glover.

Woods currently leads the PGATOUR in GIR percentage with 75.56%, which bodes well for a course that requires pin-point play tee-to-green. The only time in his career he has had a higher percentage than this was in 2000, a season in which he won nine events and three Majors.

The current world number six also has a chance to reclaim the OWGR number one ranking he has not held since early 2013. If he wins and Dustin Johnson finishes outside the top-10, and Justin Rose and Brooks Koepka do not finish second, Woods will again become number one in the world. A feat that seemed impossible not too long ago.

The defending champion Brooks Koepka has won three Majors since the 2017 U.S. Open and was tied-second to Woods at Augusta recently, reversing their positions from the PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis, Missouri in August last year.

With his current form and recent Major record, he should perhaps be considered the number one man to beat this week.

Since the 2016 PGA Championship Koepka is a massively impressive 55-under-par in Majors, a full 15 shots better than the next player on the list. In that span of Majors, Koepka has won three times (two U.S. Open Championships and one PGA Championship) and no missed cuts.

The years he spent playing the European Tour, in what can be sometimes very trying weather conditions, means he should be ready for whatever weather the late Long Island spring will throw at him.

With a morning tee-time on Thursday, and the weather forecast as of today, coping with cool temperatures, rain and wind in the first round might prove to be extremely important.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand

Asian Tour Players in the field:

This week we have an impressive six Asian Tour players in the field, all making it into the event by their OWGR rankings.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat is mostly playing PGATOUR these days and the 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion is coming off a tied-fifth finish in last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson, his second top-five finish of the year following a tied-third at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

A very popular figure on the U.S. Tour, he might well have very good backing from the notoriously rowdy and harsh New York sports-fans. A factor not to be underestimated this week.

Kiradech should be long enough of the tee to contend this week, but his Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green rank of 168th on the PGATOUR this season is perhaps a bit worrying.

However, his rank in Strokes Gained: Putting is near top of the class, and he currently sits at number three so far this season.

Justin Harding has since his win at the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters been playing almost exclusively in the U.S., and like Kiradech had a good finish in Dallas last week finishing tied-tenth.

With a tied 12th finish at the Masters Tournament last month he is a proven Major Championship contender, and his playing record since the start of 2018 until now is extremely impressive.

Already known among his South African peers as a great putter, he is currently ranked number one in Strokes Gained: Putting in the 2019 PGATOUR season. On a long demanding course with punishing rough, hitting the fairways will play a big part in who comes out on top this week. In addition to his impressive putting statistics above, Harding is ranked number five in Total Driving, and sixth in Driving Accuracy.

Jazz Janewattanond has perhaps been the breakout star of the 2019 Asian Tour season, although it must be said that his ascent to the top-ranks of the game started in 2018.

Since late May last year, Jazz has racked up an impressive 15 top-10’s (11 of them top 5’s) in his last 30 events played, including two wins at the 2019 SMBC Singapore Open and the 2018 Queen’s Cup Presented by Bangchak.

This will be Jazz’s second career Major Championship following his debut at last year’s Open Championship and going by course reputation will be a totally different challenge compared to Carnoustie last year.

With a very solid all-round game, Jazz will be looking to make a big impact on the world stage at the year’s second Major.

Shaun Norris had a great 2018 season with a total of 12 top-10’s worldwide, including a win at the JGTO HEIWA PGM CHAMPIONSHIP in early November, a second at the Japan Open Championship and tied-second at the SMBC Singapore Open.

He finished second on the 2018 JGTO Money Rankings, having earned JPY103,942,450 or roughly US$950,000.

This will be Norris’s third Major but first on U.S. soil, having previously made the cuts at The Open Championship in 2017 and 2018.

A naturally big and strong player, Norris may be able to handle the thick rough should he miss the fairways at Bethpage Black this week.

Kurt Kitayama has added a couple of victories to his resume since late last year, winning the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open last December, and the Oman Open this March.

Known as one of the longest drivers on the Asian and European Tours, the course might suit Kitayama’s game just fine.

This will be Kitayama’s first career Major Championship.

David Lipsky is enjoying a very solid stretch of tournaments since his win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last December, coming off consecutive top-5’s in his last two events to go along with a tied-10th at the WGC-Mexico Championship.

Playing in his third Major Championship and first in the U.S., Lipsky will be looking to improve on his current best Major performance of a tied-58th finish in The Open Championship in 2015.

 

Asian Tour members and notables’ tee-times:

7:07 AM              Brandt Snedeker                             Kiradech Aphibarnrat                    Max Homa

7:18 AM              Henrik Stenson                                David Lipsky                                     Richard Sterne

7:29 AM              Mike Lorenzo-Vera                         Justin Harding                                  Sam Ryder

8:13 AM              Lee Westwood                                 Shaun Norris                                    Charles Howell III

8:24 AM              Brooks Koepka                                 Francesco Molinari                         Tiger Woods

1:38 PM               Rory McIlroy                                     Phil Mickelson                                          Jason Day

2:11 PM               Jazz Janewattananond                Tyler Hall                                            Michael Kim

2:22 PM               Dylan Frittelli                                    Andrew Filbert                                 Kurt Kitayama

 

Tournament Facts:

Prize money: TBA (US$11 million in 2018). Winner’s share: TBA (US$1.98 million in 2018).

Defending champion: Brooks Koepka

Previous Majors at Bethpage Black:

Year                     Date                  Tournament                  Winner                           Score                  To par  

2002                     Jun 13–16           U.S. Open                           Tiger Woods                      277                        −3

2009                     Jun 18–22           U.S. Open                          Lucas Glover                     276                        −4


With lucrative events such as WGCs and Majors looming, the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) becomes all important. Here we follow the Asian Tour players that are making a charge up the rankings and their quest to play their way into these events via the OWGR.

Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, currently ranked number 43 on the OWGR is already eligible for all the above events.

By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional

 

Last week’s dual events, the Volvo China Open and The 38th GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship, both provided some Sunday play-off drama and worthy champions.

At Genzon Golf Club in Shenzhen Mikko Korhonen of Finland defeated France’s Benjamin Hebert on the first extra hole with a birdie. With this win Korhonen goes to number 84 from 121, a new career-high ranking for him.

The Namseoul Country Club in Seoul saw local favourite Taehee Lee win a hard-fought battle against recent Asian Development Tour (ADT) graduate Janne Kaske of Finland on the third play-off hole, also by making a birdie. Lee rises to a new career-high OWGR ranking of 299 from 545, while Kaske improves his position to 518 from 801.

Of the players in position to gain access to the upcoming Majors via the OWGR, Justin Harding, Jazz Janewattananond and Shaun Norris all received Special Invitations for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black next week by being inside the top 100 at the cut-off date May 5th.

In addition to the players above, Asian Tour members Kurt Kitayama and David Lipsky were also given Invitations to the second Major of the year even though they were outside of the top-100 at the deadline.

  • Justin Harding (RSA)

 

Harding had a week off tournament golf and remains at number 45 this week. Having already locked up his place in the PGA Championship for the second consecutive year, he also has a very good chance to secure an exemption to the US Open Championship at Pebble Beach Golf Links June 13 to 16.

 

The qualifying criteria for OWGR exemptions is to be inside the top-60 by either May 20th or June 10th, the two cut-off dates, and Harding looks very likely to secure one of these spots.

 

  • Jazz Janewattananond (THA)

Finishing in tied-19th place at the Volvo China Open, Jazz picks up 1.42 OWGR points and rises two places in the rankings to number 70 from 72 last week, tying his previous career high rank.

The next important step on the OWGR for him will be breaking into the top-60 for an exemption into the US Open Championship.

Jazz is not playing this week, opting instead to spend the time to get ready for the PGA Championship. A good finish there with all the OWGR points it has on offer would go a long way towards a top-60 ranking in time for the cut-off dates.

 

  • Shaun Norris (RSA)

Currently ranked number 98 on the OWGR thanks to a very strong 2018 season that included a win in the Heiwa PGM Championship on the Japan Tour, and 11 other top 10s around the world.

Norris managed to stay just inside the top-100 at the cut-off date for the PGA Championship despite missing the cut at last week’s Volvo China Open.

This will be Norris’s first start in a Major on US soil, and he is not playing this week’s Asia-Pacific Open Diamond Cup in preparation for next week.

 

  • Kurt Kitayama (USA)

Missing the cut at the Volvo China Open Kitayama slides four places in the rankings to 110 from 106 last week, however he still received a Special Invitation to next week’s PGA Championship which will be the first Major of his career.

Kitayama will be playing the British Masters Hosted by Tommy Fleetwood on the European Tour this week.

 

  • David Lipsky (USA)

A tied-fifth place in China last week means Lipsky moves up five spots in the OWGR rankings to 115 from 120 the previous week. He has been playing very good golf since his win at the Alfred Dunhill Championship last December, with back-to-back top-five results in his last two events and a tied-10th in the WGC-Mexico Championship earlier in February.

Like Kitayama above, he also received a Special Invitation to next week’s PGA Championship even though he was outside the top-100 at the cut-off date and it will be his first start in this Major Championship.

Lipsky will also be playing the British Masters in Southport, England this week.


By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional 

This week we are in Japan for the prestigious Asia-Pacific Open Diamond Cup, held for the first time at Sobu Country Club in Chiba prefecture an hour east of Tokyo.

The second co-sanctioned event in 2019 with the Japan Golf Tour Organisation (JGTO) following the SMBC Singapore Open, and the first of the year on Japanese soil, this event used to be played in September and has been co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour since 2014.

Last year’s event was won by Japanese star player Yuta Ikeda in comfortable fashion, as he finished six shots ahead of South Africa’s Justin Harding on a 15-under-par 269 total.

The defending champion is coming off a solid tournament in China last week where he finished tied-11th, and he has had four other top-10s on the Japan Tour since his victory at this event last September.

While Ikeda’s Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) of 119 is not as high as it was in early 2017 when he hit a career high of number 33, he is nevertheless always a force to be reckoned with when playing in Japan.

He would love to be the first player to defend this title since the legendary Masashi “Jumbo” Ozaki did so in 1996-1997.

There are a number of other players in-form and aiming to come out on top this week, and among those the ones below all have strong cases as to why they should be considered top contenders:

 

  • Shugo Imahira (JPN)

The reigning Japan Tour Order of Merit Champion finished second at The Crowns last week on the Japan Tour and is obviously in good form. He had a staggering 14 top-ten finishes last year and will be looking to keep this pace in 2019.

Currently ranked number 71 on the OWGR which is the highest in the field.

 

  • Brendan Jones (AUS)

The winner of the Token Hommate Cup three weeks ago on the Japan Tour, Jones is referred to as the “King of Japan” by his fellow Australian players. No surprise, given his record in Japan which includes 15 victories going all the way back to 2002.

The leading player on the current Japan Tour Order of Merit, Jones also had a good 2018 season which included nine top-10 finishes and placed him seventh on the Order of Merit.

Currently ranked number 100 on the OWGR.

 

  • Sanghyun Park (KOR)

Last year’s Asian Tour Rookie of the Year looks to have his game in a good place at the moment, coming into this week with a fourth and tied-fourth finish in his last two events, at The 38th GS Caltex Maekyung Open and the Token Hommate Cup respectively.

Park’s impressive 2018 season saw three victories (GS Caltex Maekyung Open, KEB Hana Bank Invitational and the Shinhan Donghae Open) and 11 top-10s in total on the Asian Tour, Korean Tour and Japan Tour.

With his game trending in the right direction, another win could be right around the corner for the OWGR number 131.

 

  • Masahiro Kawamura (JPN)

Spreading his play between the Asian Tour, European Tour and Japan Tour in 2019, Kawamura has shown great form as of late with a runner-up in the Hero Indian Open, a tied-sixth result at the Trophee Hassan II and tied-15th at the Maybank Championship.

During his 2018 campaign he racked up eight top-10s on different tours and ended the season 24th on the Asian Tour Habitat for Humanity Standings, and 19th on the Japan Tour Order of Merit.

His lone victory came at the co-sanctioned 2013 Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open, and it would not be surprising to see him lift a trophy again soon.

Kawamura is sitting in 137th place on the OWGR this week.

 

  • Junggon Hwang (KOR)

Finishing tied-third last week at The Crowns, the current OWGR number 204 also had a good finish to the 2018 season with two straight top 10s finishing tied-second in the Nippon Series JT Cup and seventh at the Casio World Open.

Having won three tournaments previously on the Japan Tour, the Casio World Open (2015 & 2012) and the Gateway to The Open Mizuno Open (2011), Hwang will be looking to get back in the winner’s circle once again.

 

  • Prom Meesawat (THA)

Prom is coming off two good tournaments in a row where he finished seventh at last week’s Maekyung Open, and the winner at the Butra Heidelberg Cement Brunei Championships on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) the previous week.

Add to that a win at the Singha Thailand Masters on the All Thailand Golf Tour and a tied-fifth place at the SMBC Singapore Open (which qualified him for The Open Championship) and you could definitely call this a successful season so far.

The OWGR number 241 last won on the Asian Tour in 2014 and his next victory on the main Tour does not seem to be far off.

 


With the Volvo China Open making its return to the Asian Tour schedule again this week, Swamy goes on a nostalgic drive back to the past when India’s Jeev Milkha Singh won the event in 2006.

By V Krishnaswamy (@Swinging_Swamy)

Swamy is one of India’s leading sports writers, who has covered over 20 Majors and 250 international golf tournaments.

Following Jeev Milkha Singh’s fortunes at the 25th edition of the Volvo China Open’s brought back a flood of memories about this great champion.

It was the summer of 2006 when Jeev ended a seven-year drought by winning the then US$ 1.8 million Volvo China Open by a single stroke over Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano of Spain. I was the only Indian journalist at the event.

Jeev had been winless since the 1999 Lexus International on Asian Tour. The event then did not count towards the World Rankings.

Jeev had been second seven times since then and he also had 23 top-10s in the period. But a win kept eluding him.

Back home in India, a new crop of stars had emerged – Gaurav Ghei and Jyoti Randhawa among them; and Arjun Atwal had returned from the US and was regularly playing in Asia from the mid-1990s.

Only a couple of years earlier, Rahil Gangjee had won a title in his rookie year in 2004 and in 2005, Shiv Kapur made big waves with his triumph at the Asian Tour’s season-ending Volvo Masters of Asia in Thailand.

I had to fish out a report from my personal archives to recall what Jeev had told me after the win that week. He said, “I just can’t explain this feeling, it’s been a long seven years.”

He added: “I’ve let so many tournaments go in the last few years and went in to today with reverse psychology, thinking that if I didn’t win, it didn’t matter.”

Jeev started the final day one shot behind the leader, David Lynn. The Indian was tied for second with Prayad Marksaeng, while Fernandez-Castano and Paul Casey were tied fourth another shot behind.

Jeev started the final day with a bogey but got that shot back with a birdie soon after on the third hole.

He caught up with Lynn by the seventh hole and when the Englishman dropped a shot on nine, Jeev was the leader at the turn at 10-under. Lynn caught up again on 10, but his bogey on 13 was costly.

I still remember it was the birdie on the 14th at the Beijing Honghua International Golf Club that set Jeev on the road to victory. He was now two clear of the field and was consistent with pars over the next three holes. Meanwhile Lynn dropped shots on 13 and 15, but Fernandez-Castano came within a shot.

On the 18th the Spaniard needed a birdie to catch up with Jeev, who was behind him. His effort to get that extra birdie forced an errant drive off the 18th and ended with a bogey handing Jeev a two-shot cushion with one hole to play.

“When I saw him (Fernandez-Castano) bogey the 18th, I decided to play it safe and not even go for the flag,” said Jeev, who bogeyed the 18th and still won by one at 10-under 278. Fernandez-Castano was second, Lynn was third and Casey was Tied-fourth.

When he finally got time to reflect on the win after his duties with press Conference, TV interviews, photos with staff and sponsors, Jeev got emotional and looked totally drained.

Who were the other Indians that day? Amandeep Johl finished T20th, Harmeet Kahlon was T-54th and Rahil Gangjee was T-60, while Shiv Kapur and Gaurav Ghei  had missed the cut. The next morning, all of us left for Shanghai for the next event, the Asian Open.

The ever-gracious Jeev got all the Indians together in Shanghai – and invited all the players and some local friends to dinner at an Indian restaurant and he made sure I was there.

At Shanghai, he gave another example of his sportsmanship, by calling a penalty on himself while taking a shot from a lake and finished tied-26th. But for that penalty, he may have been close to Top-10.

That Volvo China win also took him to the top of the Order of Merit, which he ended up winning. He had been 314th (thank you, www.owgr.com) the week before and he rose to 194th and kept climbing there on.

With the burden of winning now gone, Singh won three times more that year – the Volvo Masters of in Valderrama to complete a Volvo double and added two titles in successive weeks in Japan (Casio World Open and Golf Nippon JT Series).

Thee wins in a six-week stretch and one third  (Hong Kong Open) and 17th at HSBC Champions saw Jeev rising to 39th in the world and just as Christmas came around, the postman delivered the Masters invite to his home in Chandigarh.

When the last event of the 2006 season came around in Thailand, I was in Doha for the Asian Games, where India’s budding amateur stars, Anirban Lahiri, Gaganjeet Bhullar, Chiragh Kumar and Joseph Chakola (who now manufactures golf apparel) were winning a team silver.

With his Order of Merit win assured, Jeev spoke to me to ask if I could come to Bangkok to celebrate the win. I missed the closing ceremony in Doha and landed in Bangkok on the third day of the event and had a great celebration over the weekend.

It does not stop there. When the Masters invite came in the mail, Jeev again called up to invite me (and another journalist friend, the Dubai-based Joy, who had also flown into Bangkok) to come to the Augusta National as it would be the first time an Indian would play at the Masters.

He ensured accommodation for us along with his family and it was the beginning of my love affair with the Masters, which I have not missed for a decade now.

Jeev has always been a great ambassador for Indian sport and golf. One would love to see him win yet again, and maybe in China this week, where at one stage he was three-under (actually the scoreboard showed four-under) but ended at one-under with a double on 18th at the Genzon Golf Club. There are three more days to go.

Come on, Jeev. Do it again.

*Singh opened his account at the 2019 Volvo China Open with a one-under-par 71 to trail the leaders by six shots in tied-69th place.


By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional

A classic course in Asian professional golf, perhaps as memorable as Delhi Golf Club and Hong Kong Golf Club, although not necessarily similar in any way. But still an old-school Asian Tour course in every sense of the word. A course that everyone that played it back in the old days still talk about.

A beautifully landscaped course in the hills on the outskirts of Seoul, and on a nice clear spring-day you will have a great view of the surrounding suburbs from the hills above.

My first time playing the Maekyung at Namseoul was in 1995 on the old APGC Asian Circuit, and as was the case with Delhi Golf Club, my first visit there was also the scene of my best result in the tournament unfortunately. If my memory serves me correctly, I finished in a respectable 14th position that year.

Obviously, I was not a very good student of the game, or at least at adapting to different playing conditions, but don’t be fooled.

Namseoul is not overly long by modern standards, but it is a very strategic course, although maybe more deceptively so than some other courses.

By deceptive I mean that at first glance it is not very narrow, and the rough is not that thick (at least when you play it early in the spring when the Maekyung is always played), so you might feel like you can be a bit casual off the tee. That you can afford to be a bit imprecise with your drives or whatever you tee off with, and not focus properly on the shot at hand.

This would be a big mistake, and not because of what lies you might face in the rough, bunkers or trees awaiting a miscue with the tee-shot, the real problem will lie with your approach to the green from a less than ideal position.

The greens at Namseoul slope almost exclusively back-to-front, and some of them quite severely so. And they can be fast. Or very fast if you take the slope into consideration, coming from the wrong side of the hole.

Depending on how dry the weather is or has been, they can also be firm which is not an easy combination.

Control of approach shots is key, both when it comes to distance and direction. You will need very precise iron-shots into the greens in order to shoot good scores here. It is imperative that you place the ball within, say a 90-degree angle (or pie-shape) short of or below the hole, if you are going to be able to consistently have good opportunities to make putts.

Putts from above the hole or even some sidehill putts, will inevitably result in come-back attempts you wish you didn’t have. Even from normally makeable distances.

The advice here has always been, that it is often better to miss a green short than having a putt from the back of the green or wrong side of the hole. A chip or pitch uphill from short of the green is usually a much easier proposition for an up-and-down on these raised-up greens.

Elevation will also be a factor some holes, as the course is perhaps the hilliest on the Asian Tour schedule. On a few of the holes with very elevated greens like number 13, it can be difficult to keep the ball short of the hole even though most players will have no more than a wedge left for the second shot. The ball will be coming in on a flatter trajectory than usual because of the elevation, which will make it more difficult to stop it quickly.

The final hole is also playing quite severely uphill on the second shot, but the difficulty of the hole does not end there. The two-tiered green can be absolutely diabolical depending on where the pin is placed.

As with the rest of the greens it slopes acutely back to front, and with the added steep tier in the middle, it makes it much more difficult when pins are on the back portion as they usually are on the weekend.

Coming up a bit short and leaving the ball on the lower tier with your approach, you are facing a putt with the possibility of the ball coming back to your feet if you do not give it enough pace. Hit it too firmly and you could find yourself with a six-footer coming back down the hill, which if you miss the hole with in the come-back attempt, you could end up back down on the lower tier where you started. This has all been done in the past.

Miss the 18th green long with the approach, and you will need deft touch in order to keep your chip on the top plateau. Otherwise it will run all the way down to the front of the green, where you will be facing the scenario in the paragraph above.

All this makes for a potentially dramatic finishing hole, a two-shot swing on 18 is a very real possibility as we saw last year, and not only if one player makes a birdie.

The spectators will be out in full force on the weekend, and there could be thousands of people around the 18th green watching what I think is one of the most interesting finishing holes on the Asian Tour.


By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional 

A big week ahead for a lot of Asian Tour players with concurrent events being held in China and Korea, the approximately US$2.9 million Volvo China Open and the just over US$ 1 million GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship.

Both events have a long and storied history, with the inaugural Volvo China Open played in 1995 and the GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship going all the way back to 1982.

Genzon Golf Club, Shenzhen

Volvo China Open

As the Volvo China Open has been played at a number of different courses over the years, this is only the second time the event will be played at Genzon Golf Club in Shenzhen. On the previous occasion in 2014, Alexander Levy of France beat Tommy Fleetwood by four shots to capture the trophy against a world-class field that also included Francesco Molinari, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson and Rafa Cabrera-Bello.

Last year’s champion Alexander Bjork of Sweden will be keen to the defend the trophy he won at Topwin G&CC outside of Beijing by one stroke over Adrian Otaegui, but will likely get a strong challenge from some of these players below:

  • Li Haotong (CHN)

The highest OWGR ranked player in the field at number 39, he is also a past champion of the event winning the 2016 edition by three shots. Li has had a solid start to the year, finishing second to Dustin Johnson in the Saudi International and tied ninth in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

He will be looking to become the first Chinese player to win his National Open twice.

  • Scott Hend (AUS)

The current number one player in the Habitat for Humanity Standings and winner of the recent Maybank Championship, Hend will be coming in with good form and well rested after a few weeks back home in Jacksonville, Florida.

He has had some success at Genzon GC in past European Tour events, finishing tied-fourth in the Shenzhen International in 2016 and tied-15th in the 2015 edition. Will be very familiar with the course layout and conditions, which may be an advantage against other “Asian Tour only” players.

  • Jazz Janewattananond (THA)

Having been on a hot streak since late 2018, Jazz has had seven top-5’s in his last 11 events going back to last December, including a win at the SMBC Singapore Open in January. He has risen all the way to number 72 on the OWGR and have already secured starts in the US PGA Championship in May, and The Open Championship in July.

As well as he has been playing of late, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be a contender this week yet again.

  • Alexander Levy (FRA)

Already a two-time winner of the Volvo China Open in 2017 and 2014, Levy is currently the only player to have won this event twice.

His best finish of 2019 has been a fifth-place at the Saudi International, but if the expression “horses for courses” means anything, he might prove a difficult player to beat.

Of players teeing it up this week is at Genzon GC his record is second to none: a win at the 2014 Volvo China Open, and a fourth and eight-place in the Shenzhen International here bodes well for his chances this week.

  • Jorge Campillo (ESP)

Maybe the hottest player on the European Tour at the moment, coming off a win at last week’s Trophee Hassan II in Morocco. He also has a third-place finish at the recent Hero Indian Open, and back-to-back tied-seconds at the Oman Open and Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in early March.

Campillo also finished third in last year’s edition of the Volvo China Open, and it would not be surprising to see him better that this year.

  • David Lipsky (USA)

The 2014 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion has shown good form since late last year when he captured the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa. Finished fifth in Morocco last week and tied-tenth in the WGC- Mexico Championship which has been his best results this calendar year.

Lipsky was also in good position to win last month’s Maybank Championship, sitting in second place after three rounds before falling back with a final round 74.

He also has good knowledge of the course this week, having finished tied-fifth in the 2017 edition of the Shenzhen International.

Namseoul Country Club, 18th green

GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship

The GS Caltex Maykyung Open Golf Championship is one of those tournaments that has almost exclusively been held at the same course in its whole history. It has only ventured elsewhere on a few occasions since its inception in 1982 and has been held at Namseoul Country Club since 2006.

An astounding fact about the event is that no foreign-born player has won at Namseoul Country Club since Brandt Jobe did so in 1995, a full 24 years.

Because of this fact alone, the Korean players will remain heavy favorites this week and none more so then than the defending champion Sanghyun Park.

The 2018 Asian Tour Rookie of the Year holds an impeccable record in the GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship. In the last five editions Park has won the event twice (2016 & 2018), finished Runner-Up (2014) and tied-third (2017).

While he will be trying to become the first three-time winner of the event, there is at least a few more home-grown stars likely among those who will try to try to deny him that honor:

  • Sanghee Lee (KOR)

The winner of this event in 2017, Lee finished his Japan Tour season strongly in 2018, with three top-10s in his last four events and is currently ranked number 255 on the OWGR. In addition to his win here in 2017, he also finished tied-fifth in 2018, and tied-seventh in 2016.

  • Kyungjun Moon (KOR)

Having won here in 2015, finished runner-up in 2017, and sixth in 2016, Moon certainly has an affinity for the course. Having graduated from the Asian Tour Q-School in December last year, he will have a chance to leverage one of his favorite tour-stops into securing his playing rights for the 2020 Asian Tour season.

  • Doyeob Mun (KOR)

Opened his 2019 campaign in great fashion by finishing tied-fifth in the SMBC Singapore Open, thereby securing his place in The Open Championship field at Royal Portrush in July. Mun also had a good year in 2018 and finished third on the KPGA Tour money list, in a season that included a win in the 61st KPGA Championship, and three more top-5s on the KPGA and Asian Tours.

Of course, there are other in-form players wanting to get their hands on the trophy, and the winners-jacket that comes along with. Among the top candidates are these players below:

Prom Meesawat of Thailand

  • Prom Meesawat (THA)

Just coming off a win at last week’s Butra Heidelberg Cement Brunei Championships ADT event in Brunei, Prom has had a good start to his 2019 season. Starting the year by finishing tied-fifth at the SMBC Singapore Open and qualifying for The Open Championship, Prom also won the Singha Thailand Masters on the All Thailand Golf Tour in March.

He has won in Korea previously, taking home the trophy at the 2006 SK Telecom Open.

  • Chikkarangappa S. (IND)

Already a two-time winner on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) in 2019, the most recent victory only two weeks ago at the Delhi-NCR Open Golf Championship, he also finished tied-tenth at the Hero Indian Open and inside the top-20 at both the Maybank Championship and Magical Kenya Open.

Very much due for his first Asian tour victory soon.


With lucrative events such as WGCs and Majors looming, the Official World Golf Rankings becomes all important. Here we follow the Asian Tour players that are making a charge up the rankings and their quest to play their way into these events via the OWGR.

Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, currently ranked number 42 on the OWGR, is already eligible for all the above events.

 

By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional

 

While there was no Asian Tour event last week, four of our members recorded wins on other Tours and picked up valuable points and improving their OWGR rankings: Chikkarangappa S. on the Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) improving his ranking to 274 from 312, Danthai Boonma on the Japan Challenge Tour moving to number 281 from 358, Maverick Antcliff on the China Tour going to 354 from 487, and Richard T. Lee on the Korean PGA rising to 499 from 1014.

Justin Harding of South Africa

For the players battling to secure tickets to the upcoming Majors, there was not as much movement in the rankings:

  • Justin Harding (RSA)

Harding missed the cut at the RBC Heritage on the PGA TOUR and drops one spot  to number 45, but still has an excellent chance to secure an exemption to the U.S. Open which will be played at the Pebble Beach Golf Links in California from June 13-16. He needs to remain inside the top 60 on the OWGR by either May 20 or June 10, which are the cut-off dates for the exemptions.

Harding will be playing in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans this week, partnering with fellow South African Branden Grace in the $7.3 million two-man team event.

  • Jazz Janewattananond (THA)

Jazz narrowly missed the cut by one shot in the Token Homemate Cup on the Japan Golf Tour (JGTO) last week. He would slide  down three spots in the rankings to 74. He looks to have secured a special invitation to the US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black in New York May 16-19 by being inside the top 100 on the OWGR till May 5.

The next important step on the OWGR for him will be breaking into the top 60 by either May 20 or June 10, for an exemption into the U.S. Open.

  • Kurt Kitayama (USA)

Kitayama did not play last week and slips three places in the rankings to number 109. His immediate challenge is to break into the top 100 and get a chance for a start in the US PGA Championship.

He will be playing in the Tropee Hassan II this week in Morocco and Volvo China Open next week, and need to make up nine places between now and the cut-off date May 5.

 

*Trophy shot of Danthai: Photo credits to Japan Golf Tour


By V. Krishnaswamy

Swamy is one of India’s leading sports writers, who has covered over 20 Majors and 250 international golf tournaments.

Augusta, April 15: Tiger Woods scripted one of the finest comeback stories in sport as he ended an 11-year drought of golf Majors with a sensational win at the 83rd Masters. Time and again through the afternoon he had to keep his emotions in check. First it was on the golf course as he came to the 18th with a two-shot lead, and then as he made his way past the fans after the final putt. Then amidst cheers from fans, Woods, his eyes moist, hugged his children, son Charlie, daughter Sam, mother Kutilda; girlfriend, Erica Herman and others.

The Augusta National had brought forward the tee times and even made it threesomes from both tees. In the end, even the weather Gods chose to stay away lest they spoil the celebrations, where superlatives describing Woods’ effort and performance seemed to have run out.

It was Woods’ fifth Green Jacket and it came 14 years after the fourth one in 2005; it was the 15th Major, coming 11 years after 14th at the US Open in 2008; and it was also his 81st PGA Tour win, coming six months after his 80th at the Tour Championships. He was now one Green Jacket away from Jack Nicklaus; three Majors shy of Nicklaus’ 18 and one PGA Tour win away from Sam Snead’s 82.

The comeback, which began at the Hero World Challenge in December 2017 was now complete. Step by step he scaled the peak to win a Major. The next peak can only be No. 1 in the world and Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors.

Woods gets going on back nine

Starting the day two behind Molinari, Woods did not really get going till the back nine. It was not till the 15th that Woods got sole possession of the lead and once he did, the amazing front-runner he is, he did not let go.

Molinari’s second trip to the water this time on the 15th, and the resultant double bogey was the final game changer as Woods birdied it for a three-shot swing.

Despite an earlier double bogey on the 12th at the Amen Corner, which dropped him from 13-under to 11-under, Molinari came back to 12-under with a birdie on 13th. He was still in the equation as was Xander Schauffele, who rose to 12-under-par with birdies on 13th and 14th.

After the three-foot birdie on 15th, Woods rose further to 14-under-par with a birdie on 16th, where he hit his tee shot to within four feet of the cup. On 17th he missed a nine-footer for birdie and then on 18th, he missed a 14-footer for par. In the end, neither mattered and he was through for a historic win.

He just needed a tap-in for bogey to card 70 and total 13-under-par, which was one shot better than Dustin Johnson (68), Xander Schauffele (68) and Brooks Koepka (70).

Molinari finished tied-sixth at 11-under-par in the company of Webb Simpson, Jason Day, and Tony Finau, who were all Tied-sixth.

Woods overcome by emotions

Over the past few years, the series of surgeries, four in all, had even raised doubts, whether Woods would even be able to play the game at all, let alone win. Slowly but steadily, he found his way back. First to survive a full round walking; then a full week without tiring out; and then contending before finally winning at East Lake. He also contended at the Open in July, where Francesco Molinari won, and then at the PGA where Brooks Koepka pushed him to second.

Despite all the emotions, Woods cracked a quip as Patrick Reed slipped the jacket over his shoulders, saying, “It fits.”

Now with Masters in the bag, he sets out for the US PGA Championship at Bethpage Black and the US Open at Pebble Beach, where Woods he had success before. The 18 does not look too far now.

“To win again here is overwhelming just because of what has transpired over the last couple of years. It’s unreal,” admitted Woods as he won his first major after coming from behind on the final day.

“This tournament has meant so much to me over the years, coming here in ’95 for the first time as amateur; winning in ’97, and then coming full circle, 22 years later, to do it again.

“There were so many different scenarios that could have transpired on that back nine. There were so many guys that had a chance to win. The leaderboard was absolutely packed and everyone was playing well. You couldn’t have had more drama than we all had out there, and now I know why I’m balding. This stuff is hard.”

“This tournament has meant so much to me and my family, and to have everyone here, it’s something I’ll never, ever forget,” he said. “My dad (Earl) shouldn’t have come in ’97. I mean, he had heart complications, and wasn’t supposed to fly, but he flew and came. Gave me a putting lesson on Wednesday night, and the rest is history.

“My dad’s no longer here, but my mom’s here, 22 years later, and I happen to win the 
tournament; and then to have both Sam and Charlie here, they were there at the British Open last year when I had the lead on that back nine, and I made a few mistakes, cost myself a chance to win the Open title.

“I wasn’t going to let that happen to them twice, and so for them to see what it’s like to have their dad win a major championship, I hope that’s something they will never forget.”

Neither will all those who were at Augusta National on Sunday, April 14, 2019. It was an “I-was-there” moment.


*By Calvin Koh, Head of Press operations and Media partnerships for the Asian Tour.

What defines a great man?

He is honest, humble, generous, polite, friendly and sincere.

These traits might not be exhaustive but it describes Arie Irawan, who is one of Malaysia’s brightest talents in golf.

In life, Arie was an incredibly popular player who gave the people around him so much joy and happiness.

But sadly, it was also a life that was quickly taken away from him when he was only 28.

The golfing community was spun into a state of shock and disbelief one early Sunday morning when they learnt Arie was found unresponsive in his hotel room with early indications of his death pointing towards natural causes.

The world has lost a good man.

Arie was a ‘bro’ to many, a cheerleader, a trustworthy friend who was well-liked by fellow players and staff.

A consummate professional, he was a role model for many and a true champion, who always competed with grit and gratitude.

He just wanted to ‘play good golf as always and that’s the only thing that matters’ to him.

I had the privilege of interviewing Arie on numerous occasions on Tour and never once was I ever left in doubt he was a perfect gentleman, on and off the golf course.

Arie’s sudden passing has left a huge void in the lives of many and the numerous tributes that followed just showed the imprints he left in the hearts and minds of the people who know him.

Golf, as in life, is never so scripted. If so, we would have penned a beautiful ending.

We know death will happen one day but yet when it does come somehow, it often leaves us in an emotional state of loss.

In Arie, he’s gone but not forgotten.

He has left a lasting impression in the lives of everyone he touched and we will always remember how great a man he was.

Ends.


By Olle Nordberg, Former Asian Tour and European Tour professional 

The Masters week is finally here!

This week’s edition of Tour Insider will be different from the past few weeks, as this is the week that golf fans and tour players alike have been looking forward to for quite some time.

The iconic Masters Tournament at Augusta National is definitely one of a kind in golf.

The season opener when it comes to Major Championship golf, and together with The Open, these are the Majors that all Tour players have been dreaming about winning since they embarked on their professional careers.

In some cases, maybe even that’s the reason why they got into golf from the beginning, watching The Masters on TV in the spring and being inspired to spend countless hours practicing and imagining having a putt on 18 to wear the famous Green Jacket.

I know I did, and so did most of my junior golf friends growing up.

One thing that makes the Masters Tournament so special among Majors is the fact that it has always been held at the same course since inception in 1934, the players, patrons (no spectators at Augusta!) and regular TV viewers are all very familiar with the course layout. Or in any case, from hole nine onwards, where the traditional television starts.

It is one of the few events that regular golfers and professionals will watch in the middle of the night if on another time-zone. Either staying up late or getting up very early to catch the leaders going through Amen Corner, hole 11 through 13, and challenging the scorable but treacherous “second nine” as they call it at Augusta National.

There have been many famous charges on the final nine holes at Augusta on Sunday afternoons, but maybe none more so than Jack Nicklaus’ six-under-par 30 to don the Green jacket at age 46 in 1986, dashing Greg Norman and Tom Kite’s title hopes in the process.

The second nine at Augusta on Sunday afternoon is definitely one of the highlights on the golfing calendar for any serious golfer, and where history is made by the players battling it out for the victory.

This year, we have the fortune of having two Asian Tour players compete in their first Major of the year – Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Justin Harding of South Africa.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand

Kiradech Aphibarnrat

Kiradech qualified by virtue of being inside the top-50 on the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) in the end of 2018. He has played the Masters Tournament twice previously in 2016 and 2018. His best result coming in his first appearance when he finished tied-15th. It was a very creditable result for a first-timer, especially on a course where experience is a huge factor and approach precision and strategy is of utmost importance.

In 2018 he also made the cut and finished tied-44th after a rough start with 79 in the first round, and scores of 70, 72 and 71 the last three days.

Kiradech’s record in big events has improved steadily as proven by his world-class play in Majors and World Golf Championships (WGC)  the last two years: three top-fives in his last six WGC starts, and a 15th place in last year’s U.S. Open Championship.

No Asian player has won the Masters tournament in its 85-year history. Kiradech does not lack the talent and game to compete with the best players in the world. He could potentially be a dark horse, poised to be the first ever Asian player to win at Augusta National and Thailand’s first Major Championship winner.

Justin Harding

Harding received his invitation by being in the current OWGR top 50 after the WGC-Dell Matchplay and cemented that position by beating Matthew Fitzpatrick and Luke List in the group stage matches. He was perilously ranked number 49 going into the week and those two wins were crucial in order to guarantee a place inside the top-50 at the March 31

He has played some fantastic golf the last 15 months in his rise in the rankings, chalking up five combined wins on the Asian Tour, Sunshine Tour and European Tour: Bank BRI Indonesia Open, Royal Cup, Investec Royal Swazi Open, Lombard Insurance Classic in 2018 and the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters this year.

Harding’s Major Championship experience is limited to the 2013 Open Championship and the 2018 U.S. PGA Championship, and will be making his rookie Masters appearance this week.

Could Harding continue to ride his wave of hot form, and rewrite the history books with a rookie win at Augusta this Sunday afternoon?

Justin Harding of South Africa

The odds are stacked against a first-timer winning at Augusta National. It has happened three times in the past, but you must go all the way back to 1979 to find the most recent one, Fuzzy Zoeller who beat Tom Watson and Ed Sneed in a play-off. The only other two players who have done so on their first try was Horton Smith at the inaugural event in 1934 and Gene Sarazen the following year in 1935.

Jordan Speith came close in 2014 by finishing tied-second to Bubba Watson, before setting the 36-, 54- and 72-hole scoring records in his 2015 win.

Whoever wins this Sunday afternoon, it promises to be an exciting week ahead as we follow two of our Asian Tour stars, battling it out with the best players in the world for the Green Jacket and Masters Tournament trophy.

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