April 2020 | Asian Tour

On target with Gunn


Sentosa, Singapore, April 30: When Thailand’s Gunn Charoenkul played his rookie season on the Asian Tour back in 2012, he easily kept his card right away by finishing 32nd on the Order of Merit with over US$130,000 in earnings.

The Thai, who recently welcomed the arrival of his baby daughter, followed it up with a solid season the next year finishing 45th, but after losing his card in 2014, he would spend much of the next five years away from the Asian Tour.

Although we did not see much of him on the Asian Tour in 2019, playing only three events, Gunn featured near the top of the leaderboards on Sunday afternoons each time he teed it up.

The Thai currently has one of the most impressive stretches of events going of any Asian Tour player, dating all the way back to Qualifying School in late 2018 where he finished runner-up after shooting a final round of 10-under-par 61.

After starting the 2019 season with a tied-seventh in the SMBC Singapore Open, he opted to play mainly on the Japan Golf Tour and PGA Tour Series China before coming back to the Asian Tour for the BNI Indonesian Masters and Thailand Masters late in the year. Gunn continued his great form and finished second to Jazz Janewattananond in Jakarta and fifth in Pattaya respectively.

While Gunn did not play enough events to count on the Order of Merit last year, his nearly US$130,000 in earnings would have been good enough to finish 23rd in the rankings while playing only three official Asian Tour events.

Starting the 2020 Asian Tour season in much the same fashion as he finished last year, Gunn has already posted a solo-third place in the Hong Kong Open, a tied-14th and tied-13th in the SMBC Singapore Open and Bandar Malaysia Open respectively, and banked over US$91,000 in earnings in three events.

In the 34 Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) events he has played since the start of 2019, he has posted 20 top-10s (58.82%) and seven top-fives (20.59%). Very impressive numbers that have brought him to a current OWGR ranking of 132nd.

 

 

By the numbers

While it would not be fair to compare Gunn’s stats based on only 12 rounds played last year to players that fulfilled the minimum requirement, they still show how he was able to make such a big impact playing a very limited schedule on the Asian Tour.

 

Scoring Average

For example, his 2019 scoring average of 67.75 (-3.58 per round) was half a stroke better than Order of Merit winner Jazz who won the scoring average title with 68.28 per round.

It should be noted that on the Japan Golf Tour where Gunn played 67 rounds and 18 tournaments last year, he finished second in this stat category with an average score of 69.57 (non-adjusted scoring average).

 

 

Greens-in-Regulation (GIR)

A large part in being able to shoot those low scores was likely Gunn’s ability to hit a lot of greens-in-regulation, averaging 84.26% in his 12 rounds played in 2019. That is over 15 greens per round where he had a chance to putt for birdie, and again this would have led the Tour if his stats would have been official.

On the Japan Golf Tour, Gunn led this statistic with 73.63% last year ahead of Money Leader Shugo Imahira in second place with 72.04%.

 

 

Birdies per Round

Speaking of having a lot of chances to putt for birdies – Gunn clearly took advantage of hitting all those greens in regulation last year, racking up just over five birdies per round. For comparison, last year’s birdie leader Jazz made exactly 5.00 birdies in the 53 rounds he played on the Asian Tour in 2019.

 

 

Scrambling

Missing just under three greens per round on average combined with good skills around the greens is a sure way to keep bogeys off the card. Of the 2.83 greens that Gunn missed per round last year, he got it up-and-down on 1.83 of them.

 

 

If Gunn can keep these numbers up and playing like he’s been after the COVID-19 situation normalizes, a first Asian Tour victory could come soon. For now though, he will have to focus on staying healthy and spending time with family including his new baby daughter.

Ends.


Sentosa, Singapore, April 29: The 2020 Asian Tour season might have hit the pause button because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But there was still enough action on the golf course that captivated everyone before the golfing world became paralysed by the global virus outbreak.

This week, we revisit the season-opening Hong Kong Open in January and hear from Wade Ormsby again on what his second victory at the Hong Kong Golf Club means to him.

By Wade Ormsby

I had been working my guts out the last 14 to 15 months, trying to take my game to the next level.

I came so close to lifting the Australian PGA just three weeks before the Hong Kong Open started and losing that one really hurt me. It hit me pretty hard and I didn’t even want to know the game for the next three to four days after that.

But I managed to put that all aside and made a few changes to my game. I worked out over the break and to come back to Hong Kong and get the win so soon as possible is something that I’m can be very proud of myself and my team.

I wanted to come to a golf course that suits my eyes. I had good vibes around the Hong Kong Golf Club and I feel like I can get my game in good shape there.

It was nerve-racking coming down the stretch. Like on that 18th hole, it can do anything to you but I got the tee shot in play and hit a weak iron shot.

 

But anyway, I made a four on the card and won by four, so I was very happy. I was playing great, you always have to play the Hong Kong Golf Club the same way.

The wind directions obviously changes but you still have to try and fly it to the same spot. Obviously, I didn’t get off to a great start as I made a huge putt on one and that kind of set the tone.

But after that, I felt really good out there and I just had to keep doing my thing because I knew I was playing really good. When you get in front there’s no point in changing that, no point trying to play defensive. The guys had to come and catch me basically.

The Hong Kong Golf Club is a good golf course and you know I’m not a massively powerful player, so I just had to play to my strengths and the golf course does play to my strengths.

I was hoping to win this season, but to do it in week two of the year in my first event is special and it will be one I’ll remember forever.

I have three wins on the main Tours in my career and this is my first wire-to-wire.

Right now, it may feel like golf is a long way off from returning. But I’m doing whatever it takes to be ready when the chance to play returns. So, I’m continuing to work on my game and staying sharp.

Ends


Sentosa, Singapore April 24: Sport needs personalities. The bigger, bolder and sometimes controversial ones make the business of sport akin to show business.

Especially in these unprecedented times where everyone is looking for that shinning light that will eventually lead all out of the COVID-19 pandemic tunnel.

We need golfing heroes who have that unique personality and play that can also transport us to a fantasy world filled with suspense, surprise, joy and hope.

In golf, none come any bigger than 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand.

He speaks from the heart and makes bold statements off and on the golf course.

Unlike some mega superstars, often hidden behind security, PR agents and utter practised answers, Kiradech is often ready to offer you an uncensored account of his lives, goals and ambitions.

He’s ready to ‘kick their ass’ each time he steps up to the tee and plays professional golf to fund his blingy lifestyle, which adds to his widespread appeal.

Kiradech, who is the first Thai golfer in history to earn a PGA TOUR card, is blessed with the golfing talent that has taken to a career high of 29th place in the world.

Often referred to as Asia’s ‘John Daly’, Kiradech is however his own man who has the swagger and is clearly a big kid living out every adolescent boy’s childhood dream.

His garage is littered with Porsches and Lamborghinis, while his wardrobe can hardly hold those limited edition Kayne West’s Yeezy sneakers. He even rents an apartment just to store his shoes!

Kiradech makes no bones about his obsessions and says he needs to ‘play golf all around the world so that he can buy all of those stuff’.

HONG KONG- The Hong Kong Open at the Fanling Golf Club, Fanling, Hong Kong, the Asian Tour USD$ 1 million season opener event, January 9-12, 2020. Picture by Paul Lakatos / Asian Tour.

Lighting up the Asian Tour is also the “Human Highlighter,” a moniker that Philippines’ Angelo Que has aptly earned for his bright and colourful golfing attire.

Que is popular not only for his game but also his antics.

But they are all done in the name of good fun.

He’s after all, ‘just a very simple guy and not looking for attention.’

Que says, “I’m always joking around and I just want to enjoy myself especially on the golf course.”

While having fun, Que has shown that he can also mix that with the pressure that comes with the job.

He has won not once, twice but thrice on the Asian Tour already.

Australia’s Travis Smyth maybe searching for his Asian Tour breakthrough but has shown that he can be close to making another statement of intent on the golf course with his own arresting style that even the fashion police would not classify as a faux pas.

GEELONG, AUSTRALIA – FEBRUARY 09: Travis Smyth of Australia practices on the driving range ahead of his final round during Day Four of the ISPS Handa Vic Open at 13th Beach Golf Club on February 09, 2020 in Geelong, Australia. (Photo by Jack Thomas/Getty Images)

Self-proclaimed ‘Mr Sunday’, American Berry Henson has also shown his knack for invigorating the scene on the Asian Tour.

Apart from his slick dance moves, Henson is equally smooth as the host of his ‘Coffee with the Hensonator’ talk show on social media.

Just like how ‘Mr. Sunday’, who is a winner on both the Asian Tour and Asian Development Tour (ADT), likes to save his best swing for the final day of the tournament, Henson always strives to hit his best pose, whether it’s on or off the golf course.

In his search for excellence on the fairways, Finland’s Janne Kaske can strum the guitar with the same gusto as he does with his clubs on the fairways.

When he finished runner-up at the GS Caltex Maekyung Open last year, the Bangkok-based vintage rock lover spoilt himself with a vintage 1964 Gibson ES-345 guitar from his winnings.

The Finn has left an indelible mark on the ADT where he has won twice, showing his talent does not begin and end on the golf course.

Janne Kaske- Long Road to Ruin Guitar

Asian Tour's Bangkok based guitar virtuoso Janne Kaske showing where his runner-up cheque from the 2019 Maekyung went, a vintage 1964 Gibson ES-345! And he can play some Foo Fighers with it too. Over to you Eric Van Rooyen! 🤘🎸👇#StayHome #StayWell #coronabreak

Posted by Asian Tour on Monday, March 23, 2020

 

And like the magic putter he welds on the greens, Australia’s David Gleeson can also orchestrate epic scores with his array of musical talents on any given instruments.

Piano, check. Cello check. Guitar check.

Gleeson’s soulful singing completes his persona of an accomplished golfer and musician, who first learned to play the piano when he was seven and the basics of guitar from Cat Stevens’ greatest hits.

To the Australian who has already won three times on the Asian Tour, he feels that ‘golf and music are so similar in their performance characteristics.’

But while conceding ‘playing too much music around the time of a golf tournament would not help in anyway’, he says, ‘listening and relaxing to your favourite tunes, I’m sure is a different story.’

 

Most golfers are best known for what they accomplish on the course, but some have shown they can also whip up a wicked personality outside the ropes.

With a nickname like Coconut or Coco, one can be sure Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat can be a funny guy to hang out with on Tour.

Known as a very solid ball-striker, ‘Coconut’ can equally charm with sound bites like how the best thing about playing professional golf is to ‘see the numbers in his bank account go up every week’ and how he can have a mean record-breaking feat of finishing 100 pieces of sushi at a buffet.

Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang has also endeared with his honestly and sometimes, dry humour.

Best known for pipping Rory McIlroy and Francesco Molinari in a play-off to win the Hong Kong Open in 2008, the ‘Taiwan Big Brother’ often does not have the same strategy anymore when he returns to the Hong Kong Golf Club as ‘the trees have always grown taller’.

231108-HONG KONG-LIN WEN TANG-Lin Wen Tang of Chinese Taipei, winner of the UBS Hong Kong Open, 2008 on 23 November, 2008 at the Hong Kong Golf Club, Fanling, Hong Kong. Picture by Paul Lakatos/UBS.

Then we have the short and stocky poster boy from Colombo who ‘hates playing golf but is just doing it to earn a living’.

For someone who loathes the sport, Perera has almost single-handedly put golf in Sri Lanka onto the world map.

He might not be someone who hits the golf ball long but is blessed with accuracy and deft short game.

An avid stamp collector where he has collected roughly 50,000 stamps from all over the world, Perera has stamped his mark on world golf with his multiple wins on the domestic circuit in India and three runner-up finishes on the Asian Tour so far.

In these strange times of isolation, golf needs these personalities.

For these ‘golfing heroes’ will brighten the gloom and bring back those much sought after spark in our lives.

Ends.


Sentosa, Singapore, April 20: The first time we saw Joohyung Kim in an Asian Tour event was at the 2018 Thailand Open. He was instantly recognizable as a friendly and exuberant young Korean player that was fluent in English and from what it sounded like, Thai as well.

That week at Thai Country Club, Kim who had yet to turn 16-years-old, would finish tied-65th after rounds of 72, 68, 67, 77 for a four-over-par 284. While that was certainly a good result for a first appearance in an Asian Tour event for such a young player, it was perhaps not apparent that he was going to be ranked 122nd in the world not more than 21 months later.

Kim played two more Asian Tour events that year, the Royal Cup and Queen’s Cup hosted by Jaidee Foundation, making the cuts in both events and finishing tied-25th and tied-48th respectively. Solid events for a very young player and he would soon go on to accomplish a lot more.

 

Early 2019 season

In his first and only visit to the Asian Tour Qualifying School in late 2018, Kim would miss the four-day cut on three-under-par. Unable to secure Asian Tour status for 2019, he would instead have to settle for playing rights for the Asian Development Tour (ADT).

Kim made an unassuming start to his ADT career by finishing tied-25th in his first event, the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship, and would follow that up by missing the cut in the Thongchai Jaidee Foundation five weeks later.

However, in his next 11 ADT events Kim found his groove and he would post eight top-10s, seven top-fives and three victories in the PGM Championship @ Tiera Melaka, Ciputra Golfpreneur Tournament and the Raya Pakistan Open, earning a battlefield promotion to the Asian Tour by winning three times in the same season.

Kim had also played one Asian Tour event before his third ADT win, the Bank BRI Indonesia Open in early September, and he had come close to winning in Jakarta finishing in solo-third place four shots behind the winner.

 

 

While there are no performance stats from the ADT, his scoring average from these 13 events were an impressive 69.17 (-2.61 per round) for a grand total of 120-under-par.

 

Battlefield promotion to the Asian Tour

After Kim had already come close to winning in his first Asian Tour appearance of 2019 in Indonesia, he would continue with the same vein of hot form after his promotion to the Asian Tour. A tied-sixth finish at the Thailand Open, where he was only two shots behind the winner on a packed leaderboard, before posting his maiden Asian Tour win at the Panasonic Open India the following week.

Kim would go on to record solid finishes in his last two events of the 2019 season and has started this year in much the same way as he finished last year. Two fourth-place finishes in the SMBC Singapore Open and New Zealand Open, the former earning Kim a ticket to the (now delayed until 2021) Open Championship at Royal St. George’s.

 

 

Performance Stats

So, which aspects of Kim’s game have enabled him to go from missing his card at the 2019 Asian Tour Qualifying School to 122nd in the world rankings in no more than 15 months?

While we have no stats from his ADT season and he did not play enough rounds on the Asian Tour to count for the official stats, we can look at his numbers from Asian Tour events in 2019 and tournaments played so far in 2020.

The 2019 rankings are where he would have placed in the official stats if allowed to count based on his limited Asian Tour schedule.

 

 

Kim’s numbers are impressive across the board and show no real weakness in his game, with putts per GIR, Scoring Average and birdies per round the most noteworthy.

Though it’s difficult to compare his stats with the limited rounds played (he would only have needed 20 rounds to be able to count in the official stats), the fact that he would have been number one in Putts/GIR and second only to Order of Merit champion Jazz Janewattnanond in Scoring Average and Birdies-per-Round in 2019 are high marks indeed.

Counting all tournaments Kim played from the start of 2019 until now, including events on the All Thailand Golf Tour (ATGT), in 26 events he has posted four wins (15.38%), 13 top-fives (50%) and 16 top-10s (61.54%).

Still only 17-years-old, Kim is super-talented with a great attitude and personality to match. He is touted as the next big star in golf and should enjoy a great career on the Asian Tour and beyond when professional golf resumes after the COVID-19 situation normalises.


Sentosa, Singapore, April 17: Being an Olympian is almost every sports professional’s dream.

That long and winding route towards earning a priceless ticket to Tokyo needs dedication, perseverance and an incredible drive.

But with an invisible enemy in the form of the COVID-19 virus wreaking havoc on daily life across the entire planet, the Olympic Games has not been spared.

For the first time in the Games’ 124-year modern history, it has now been postponed.

But the silver lining is that it has given golfers more time for a shot at Olympic glory.

On current rankings, only Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond and Gunn Charoenkul, the Indian pair of Rashid Khan and Udayan Mane, Malaysia’s Gavin Green, Zimbabwean Scott Vincent together with Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines would represent the Asian Tour as members in the 60-men field in Tokyo.

Many have broadly endorsed the delay having considered the health risks and disruption to their training especially with many golf courses and practice facilities now closed all around the world.

Among them is India’s S.S.P. Chawrasia, who has enjoyed a monumental rise in the sport since he turned professional in 1997.

Apart from bagging six Asian Tour titles, the Indian also counts his debut at the 2016 Games as one of his career’s biggest highlights, having qualified as the second highest ranked Indian player after Anirban Lahiri in 2016.

“My form was coming back, but I understand the postponement. I hope I can get my form to the highest levels when action returns and make it to Tokyo,” said Chawrasia, who finished tied-50th along with China’s Li Haotong and Venezuela’s Jhonattan Vegas in Rio de Janeiro four years ago.

Compatriot Shubankar Sharma, the 2018 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, was third behind Khan and Mane before the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR) was frozen.

He remains hopeful of rediscovering the form that led him to being crowned Asia’s number one golfer two years ago.

“For me personally, with the Games now postponed to 2021 or whenever, it is now an open race and anyone can make it.

“It is now a question of finding form and getting back to where I was two years ago. Well, that is very much possible whenever the season starts for us,” said Sharma.

With his Olympics dreams on hold, a matter-of-fact Rashid said, “This is not in our hands. Whenever the Games happen, I will be ready.”

The Olympic Games offers no prize money but the weight of the gold, silver or bronze medals will be far greater than the hundreds of thousands, if not millions earned by professional golfers.

Nationalistic pride ranks high as nothing beats standing on the winner’s podium, hearing their national anthem being played and sharing that excitement with their compatriots.

Philippines’ Miguel Luis Tabuena competes in the men’s individual stroke play at the Olympic Golf course during the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 11, 2016. / AFP / Emmanuel DUNAND (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP via Getty Images)

Philippines’ Miguel Tabuena will be the first to attest to that as he was the first Filipino golfer to represent his country in golf when the sport made its debut.

Although he settled for 53rd place, a far shot away from England’s gold medallist, Justin Rose, the 25-year-old still brims with pride each time he recalls that significant moment in Brazil.

“Nothing is bigger than the Olympics and I worked hard to realise my dream to be part of the Olympics and represent my country,” said Tabuena.

The Olympic flame, which has already been lit, will now remain in Tokyo as a beacon of hope for all.

And it will be a shining light that will eventually lead the world out of this tunnel as 15 months from now when the first tee shot is expected to be hit at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kasahata, Saitama, Japan

Ends.


Sentosa, Singapore, April 13: 2016 was a year which saw Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond lose his Asian Tour card. But in less than three years, the reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion has gone from being unable to secure much playing opportunities to becoming one of the best players in the world.

Last week would have been Jazz’s  debut appearance at The Masters.

Due to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the event has now been pushed up to a possible November date and as we await with bated breath on how Jazz will perform at Augusta National then, we take an in-depth look into his remarkable turnaround where he is currently ranked 39th in the world.

 

The early years

Jazz was already an established player on the Asian Tour, having finished 31st, 32nd and 18th on the Order of Merits in 2013-2015, and barely missed out on finishing inside the all-important top-60 by finishing 63rd in 2016.

After losing his card and missing out at the Qualifying School in early 2017, Jazz promptly won the Bashundhara Bangladesh Open in early February in his first start of the year playing on limited status. His maiden victory in Dhaka was hugely important because it not only secured Jazz exempt playing rights for two years, but it would also have provided him with the validation that he had the game to win at the highest level.

Still, it is a long way to go from winning your first Asian Tour event in Dhaka, to the top echelon in global golf and competing in Majors against the best players in the world. So, which aspects of Jazz’s game elevated him from being a prolific Asian Tour player, tournament winner, to his current position on the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR)?

 

Greens-in-Regulation (GIR)

Most importantly, Jazz’s GIR stats improved from 64.98% in 2016 to 75.26% in 2019, a gain of almost two greens per round and on par with the best players in the world.

For comparison, even though course difficulty and length should be considered a big factor, this percentage would have placed Jazz first on the PGA TOUR and sixth on the European Tour in this stat category in 2019.

 

Putts per Green-in-Regulation

On other Tours, many of the top-ranked players in GIR are not ranked highly in the Putts/GIR category, but Jazz’s 2019 average of 1.71 placed him second in this category on the Asian Tour.

A remarkable feat which perhaps is an indication that not only did he hit a lot of greens but he also hit it close to the pin as well.

Among the few players that ranked highly in both these categories in 2019 was Matthew Fitzpatrick on the European Tour, one of the world-class players Jazz beat to win last year’s SMBC Singapore Open. Fitzpatrick finished 12th in GIR with 73.11% and second in Putts/GIR with 1.71 on the European Tour.

 

Scrambling

Also, Jazz’s scrambling percentage improved greatly from 60.34% in 2016 to 69.49% in 2019. Of his 4.45 missed greens per round last year, he got up-and-down on 3.09 of them.

The high GIR percentage in combination with his scrambling skills would explain why Jazz averaged only 1.87 bogeys per round, the lowest on the Asian Tour last season.

 

Birdies per Round

Another stat that stood out is the number of birdies he made, with Jazz averaging 5.00 birdies per round which led the Asian Tour last year. That was 0.69 birdies per round more than Scott Hend in second place with 4.31. Leading the Tour in both birdies-per-round and bogey-avoidance is a sure recipe for success.

 

Scoring Average

With excellent numbers and huge improvements made in these key stat categories between 2016 and 2019, the results can clearly be seen in his scoring average. An improvement from 71.23 in 2016 to 68.28 in 2019, a gain of nearly three strokes per round, gave Jazz the scoring title as well as four tournaments won and the Asian Tour Order of Merit crown.

 

Driving

Jazz also increased his driving distance significantly by 12 yards since 2016 while at the same time improving his accuracy by just over 4%, making him one of the best drivers of the ball on the Asian Tour and finishing sixth in Total Driving last year.

 


April 8: Reigning Asian Tour Order of Merit champion, Jazz Janewattananond of Thailand intends to fight his way into the 2021 Presidents Cup after former Masters champion Trevor Immelman was named the new International Team captain.

Jazz, who is ranked 39th on the Official World Golf Ranking, has caught Immelman’s attention where the South African spoke highly of the young Thai as well as the impact made by Asian golfers over the years in the prestigious team competition against the United States Team.

“You’ve got Jazz Janewattananond playing over there on the Asian Tour doing some great stuff and he’s starting to get opportunities now in the biggest tournaments here in the States,” said Immelman.

With five Asians – Sungjae Im, Byeong Hun An, Haotong Li, C.T. Pan and Hideki Matsuyama  – featuring prominently in the International Team which narrowly lost 16-14 to a Tiger Woods-led United States Team at Royal Melbourne last December, the newly minted captain, who replaces his idol and mentor Ernie Els, believes the region’s top stars will continue to make their presence felt when he leads the team to Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina next year.

“You look at the history of our team going back to (Shigeki) Maruyama and (Joe) Ozaki and so many other great Asian players, K.J. (Choi) included. We had a number of Asian players on our team and they performed brilliantly,” said the 40-year-old Immelman, who served as one of the four captain’s assistants to Els last year.

“I thought they (Asians) responded fantastically to the team environment, and it really was a close-knit team, and to see how they went out on the golf course, accepted the challenge of playing against the best players in the world, accepted the challenge of learning a brand new golf course in Royal Melbourne that is very intricate and very difficult, I really was impressed.

“The Asian players have always been a very, very important part of our team make-up. They will continue to be so. You look at a guy like Jazz, who’s climbed his way into the top-50 in the World Rankings and playing some beautiful golf in his own right, him and a number of other guys, you look at Haotong Li, C.T. Pan and Ben An, we can go down the list of great Asian players who really are starting to make their mark in the world of golf.”

Jazz missed qualifying automatically for the International Team by two rungs on the team ranking and was subsequently overlooked as Els selected PGA TOUR Rookie of the Year Im, Joaquin Nieman, Adam Hadwin and Jason Day as his captain’s picks. Day later withdrew with injury and was replaced by An.

“I was supporting the team. Everyone was telling me I should have been there playing but I said no. I didn’t feel bad at all. Ernie has been in this game for a long time and he knows what’s best for the team. He sees I’m not ready yet. The International Team played really good and I was really rooting for them. Yeah, I want to try to get into the 2021 team … there’s a long road ahead but I’ll be trying. I want to contribute to the International Team,” said the 24-year-old.

Ends.


April 8: India’s Anirban Lahiri has not touched a golf club in over two weeks and he doesn’t mind it at all. More importantly, the 2015 Asian Tour Order of Merit champion has touched lives during these unprecedented times caused by COVID-19.

Currently in Hyderabad with wife Ipsa, one-year-old daughter Tisya and his parents, the 32-year-old said there is so much more to sports as the world grapples with a health crisis. Like many others, India is currently in lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 and Lahiri has stepped up with a few initiatives to help bring some relief to those afflicted.

Firstly, Lahiri pledged a donation of Rs.700,000 (approximately US$10,000) towards the Prime Minister’s Citizen Assistance and Relief in Emergency Situations (PM CARES) Fund last weekend. He said he wanted to help millions of people who survive on daily wages but are currently out of work following the lockdown.

He has also sought to bring some respite via a new video cooking series aptly titled “Cooking with the Lahiris” on his social media channels. To date, Lahiri has uploaded two cooking lessons, which focuses on his favourite Indian dishes. His Twitter acount is @anirbangolf and @banstaa on Instagram.

“In these grave times that we face today, I urge my friends and brethren to join me in doing our bit to support those in most need. I have pledged Rs.700,000 to the PM CARES Fund and also support 100 families through the Zomato Feeding India initiative. In any way, big or small, let us play our part in helping the nation. Jai Hind,” Lahiri tweeted on Saturday.

With India’s Covid-19 cases breaching the 4,000 mark on Tuesday, Lahiri’s mind is no longer preoccupied by golf. He feels for daily wage earners who are hardest hit by local businesses shutting down.

“We have food and shelter and our family is secure. Whatever we can do to make it easier for others, help these people and the government, let’s do it as very few entities are operational now. A lot of sports organisations and other Indian athletes are supporting this which is good to show solidarity,” said Lahiri.

“A lot of people are severely affected here. The daily wage workers, the migrant workers from the different states … they need to have some form of daily income to keep their lives going and the PM CARES Fund is used for this specific reason which is to provide food. I’ve read stories about people walking for five to six days to get back to their villages after their workplace closed. There are a lot of extreme cases of people having no shelter, food or money.”

When Lahiri, who is based in Florida, arrived home nearly a month ago, life was still pretty much normal and he spent 10 days with his coach Vijay Divecha in Ahmadebad, working out fixes to his game which has gone off track over the past 18 months.

Subsequently, the health situation worsened and led to his country shutting down. The ensuing days hit Lahiri into a sense of realisation of what everything means to him.

“For most of us, golf is our life. But there is a larger picture outside of that which we miss,” he said. “To spend this much time with my daughter and wife, and with my parents is really nice.

“I haven’t spent so much time with my parents since I was 17 years old. It’s given me more perspective outside of golf. In fact, I don’t have my golf clubs with me now. It’s nice to hit the pause button and reflect on things which we wouldn’t normally do.”

During his down time, Lahiri has also resumed his yoga practice. “I started yoga again … today (Monday) was my fifth session in six days. It’s nice to see my body responding to it. I’ve not been disciplined with yoga over the last few years as golf has basically taken up all my time. When you play well, you kind of create more time to do things to support it and when you are not playing well, you spend time working on your game, putting or being at the range,” he said.

“I’m lucky I’m still flexible and I’ll be turning 33 in a few months’ time. If I devote the right amount of time and attention to it, I can see my body responding well and it helps with focus and balance. I’m pushing myself a bit more, which is a good challenge. It’s nice reconnecting with my body.”

Needless to say, the enforced shutdown has given him the time and opportunity to hit the reset button. “I was already at a stage of reassessing my goals and processes even before this break. My golf has been poor to say the least and it was a matter of going back to the drawing board. Spending 10 days with my coach gave me a good sense on what I need to do to get to where I want to be,” he said.

“I do miss playing golf but I don’t miss it that much. It’s funny. As a sportsperson, we mentally prepare ourselves for what is to come. If I’m leaving for four tournaments on the trot, I prepare to get into that space and ensure I don’t miss my family. I prepare mentally for it. With this break, I’m just keeping myself occupied with a little bit of cooking, yoga and some light weights training. As we’re living in an enclosed housing society which is quite large, I can go for some runs outside. And I pretty much enjoy being a stay-at-home dad. I’m trying to stay positive and look at things as best as possible. Everything is green right now in India which is one of the good things happening in our country and animals are coming out in areas which no one has seen anything like that in their lives.”

Ends.


By V.Krishnaswamy, @Swinging_Swamy

This week I should have arrived in Augusta for my annual golf pilgrimage. For almost 10 years now, I have always arrived in Augusta on the Monday of the Masters week. Be it on a flight from New York or by the bus from Atlanta.

The wait for the flight at airport in New York or at the at the bus stop in Atlanta to get to Augusta is always the most anticipated one, for I know I will be in Augusta in a few hours.

It is a ritual. Get to Augusta; check into the house; pick up the credentials in the day time; visit T-Bonz Steakhouse on Washington Road in the evening and the week is all set for the most beautiful tournament the game of golf has.

I first came to Augusta when Jeev Milkha Singh became the first Indian to tee off at the Masters in 2007 – I will come to that later. Singh was to play twice more in 2008 and in 2009.

Arjun Atwal won the Wyndham Championship on the PGA Tour in 2010 and earned a start at the 2011 Masters.

As for me, it was only from 2012, that I became a ‘regular’ at the Masters and the  Indian papers would carry the reports nicely and display it superbly.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – MARCH 30: A sign in front of TBonz Augusta on Washington Road reads ‘Augusta Strong We Are In This Together’ as they are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic causeing closure of eat-in restaurants on March 30, 2020 in Augusta, Georgia. The Masters Tournament located nearby at Augusta National has been postponed due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The Masters became a part of my life – it was the tournament I would wait for the whole year. No sooner did one Masters get over, I would start thinking about the next one scheduled 51 weeks later.

In the subsequent years I would see Anirban Lahiri play in 2015 and 2016 and then Shubhankar Sharma in 2018.

This year that streak has been broken – at least the April trip – I keep hoping the Masters will re-appear on the schedule sometime later in the year! Chairman Fred Ridley released a statement on Monday saying that the Augusta National Golf Club is looking at November date – the week of November 6-15, 2020. I really hope it happens.

In recent years, I have been fortunate to stay with my great friends from the Asian Tour, including Cho Min Thant, the CEO and Commissioner of the Asian Tour, who plays some mean golf himself. He is a busy man with meetings through the day in the Masters week.

Then come the evenings when he goes to official parties and dinners, and I head to the media gatherings. One of the dinners is with the European Tour chief. The host used to be George O’Grady initially and nowadays it is Keith Pelley.

A sun-downer followed by an amazing dinner and awesome wine. It is always a formal affair, a sit-in dinner and great golf chatter as scribes from all over are gathered at the venue, which is the ‘next door’ club – Augusta Country Club.

One day during the Masters week is reserved for the special party thrown by Dr. Pawan Munjal, CEO and Managing Director of Hero MotoCorp, sponsors of tournaments on multiple Tours – the PGA Tour, European and Asian Tours and the Ladies European Tour.

It is an ‘Indian evening’ and Munjal takes great pride in showcasing India – the food and ambience is superb. And yes, late into the evening he also shows his love for jazz.

Then there are dinners and parties by leading Sports Management companies, top managers and many sponsors. Each adding to the festivity that makes the Masters week so memorable.

Memorable indeed. And we have yet to come to golf course, the prettiest in the world and at its best in the year. Then there are all those landmarks – starting with the Magnolia Drive, the Founder’s Circle, the Crows Nest, the Rae’s Creek, the Hogan Bridge, the Nelson Bridge, the Sarazen Bridge, the Butler’s Cabin, the Eisenhower Cabin, the Arnold Palmer plaque, the Jack Nicklaus Plaque, the Record Plaque, the Ike’s Pond and the Eisenhower Tree, which was so badly damaged by the ice storm in February 2014, that it had to be removed.

AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 04: A sign for Amen Corner is seen during a practice round prior to the start of the 2012 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 4, 2012 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

My favourite sitting place – the Grandstand in front of the Amen Corner and I am always armed with a couple of  Pimento Cheese and Eggs-Mayo sandwiches and a beer. Make it two!.

Going back in time, it was in late 2006, the season Jeev turned corners after years in the wilderness. I saw him end a seven-year title-drought drought at the 2006 Volvo China Open in Beijing. He achieved a Volvo double by winning the season-ending Volvo Masters of Valderrama. A slight digression – Indians seem to love events sponsored by Volvo – in December 2005, I saw Shiv Kapur win the Volvo Masters of Asia in Bangkok.

Back to Jeev– he won twice in Japan and rose to get into Top-50 of the world by the end of 2006 and was crowned Asian Tour Number One.

That year he called me up during the Christmas week. I was out shopping with the wife, who was irked at my taking a call even in the market.

“Guess what I got as an advance Christmas and New Year gift,” said Jeev from the other end. I couldn’t and impatiently said, “Don’t tease, just tell me.”

He replied, “The official invite from the Masters.” A stunned silence.

So, an Indian would finally set foot on the haloed turf at Augusta National. And then Jeev said, “You know where you are going to be that week, right. No ifs and buts. Just be there.”

End of conversation.

My next job was getting the credentials. The media department at Augusta National was amazing – they understood what it meant for Indian golf. And it was all set.

I was off for the Masters – with two other Indians journalists – Joy Chakravarty, who now lives in Dubai, and Prabhdev Singh, a former editor of Golf Digest, India.

Accommodation in Augusta during the Masters week is a tough ask. But Jeev arranged it for us with  the rest of his family. It was the greatest week of my golf writing career. Great golf, dinners and drinks everyday, great Japanese food courtesy his Japanese sponsor and trips in a stretch limousine, again courtesy Jeev’s sponsor.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 08: A Masters pin flag blows in the wind during a practice round prior to The Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 08, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

On the golf course, Jeev made it better and even made a brief appearance on the leaderboard – an Indian on the Masters leaderboard. Wow!

He was top-10 at the end of the first day. He made the cut and there was a chance of a top-10 or top-15 finish, but a quadruple bogey on the tough green at the par-four first hole ended those hopes. He finished tied-37 as Zach Johnson won the Masters. Jeev would play in 2008 and 2009 t0o.

Atwal became the first Indian to win on the PGA Tour in 2010 – and to date the only one to do so – and earned a spot into the 2011 Masters but missed the cut.

In 2015, Anirban Lahiri had a superb early season and rose into top-50 and played the 2015  Masters. He played once again at Augusta in 2016.

His debut was a memorable one. On the second day, he had an eagle on Par-five 13th (earning him a pair crystal highball glasses – a prized memento for players) but also had a double on Par-4 14th. On the fourth and final day, Lahiri played an ‘all-par round’ with 18 pars for 72 – always a creditable showing at Augusta National.

In 2018, Shubhankar Sharma received a rare ‘special’ invite after a superb performance at the WGC-Mexico Championship, where he led at the halfway mark, but ultimately finished tied-ninth. Shubhankar was the toast at the Masters and he was even called in for a press Conference and the young man handled himself with great poise.

Going down memory lane my trip to the 2012 was made memorable by Bubba Watson. His amazing shot in the play-off is still talked about with great awe. Four birdies on the back nine brought him into a tie with South African Louis Oosthuizen, who himself had a ’shot-of-a-lifetime’ for an albatross on the Par-5 second of the final round. If Oosty had won the Masters that year, his shot for an ‘albatross’ would be the one we would be talking about as he jumped to 10-under. But Bubba caught up with him.

After both parred the first extra hole, left-hander Bubba pulled a massive drive into the trees right of the fairway. That was it, many believed. Then Bubba pulled out a 52-degree gap wedge and wove it around the trees and up the hill some 15 feet. He two-putted  and beat a stunned Oosthuizen to second place. The Green Jacket was Bubba’s.

Adam Scott won in rain in 2013; Bubba won again in 2014 as if alternate even-numbered years no longer belonged to Phil Mickelson (winner in 2004, 2006 and 2010).

In 2015 Jordan Spieth, second to Bubba in 2014, won the Green Jacket and big things were predicted for him. A year later, even as the Green  Jacket was being readied for him once again, he tripped badly and had his own ‘Tin Cup’ moment by twice finding water on Par-3 12thfor a quadruple bogey. He ended second and Danny Willett took the Green Jacket.

In 2017, Sergio Garcia ended a lifetime’s wait for a Major and in 2018, Patrick Reed broke the crowd’s heart beating favourite Rickie Fowler with a superb display.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 14: (Sequence frame 5 of 12) Tiger Woods of the United States celebrates after making his putt on the 18th green to win the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 14, 2019 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Which brings us to 2019 and a moment etched in history. Tiger Woods battered and bruised for over a decade, completed a fairy-tale win for his fourth Masters win and a 15thMajor and the first since 2008. He stays the champion as the event gets pushed to a later date in November, 2020 because of COVID-19.

Each year brings a new drama, a new hero and a story that seems even more unforgettable than the previous one. There have been storms, Typhoons and much else but the Masters has overcome it all, till this Covid-19 put us all in a bind.

But golf and Masters will be back again. Soon.

Ends.


Sentosa, Singapore April 6: Comeback stories are riveting as they revive the forgotten man. Tiger Woods may have penned his at The Masters last year, but closer to the region, our players also have their own inspirational stories to tell.

Here are five of the best stories that celebrate the triumph of the human spirit in no particular chronological order.

Lu Wei-Chih (2016 Mercuries Taiwan Masters)

There were times after his brain surgery in 2012 when Lu Wei-chih feared his career would be over. He doubted whether he would ever be able to finish a round of golf again, let alone see his name atop the leaderboard.

Against all odds, the fighter from Chinese Taipei shot a two-under-par 70 to win the tournament for the third time in his career with a five-under-par 283 total at the Taiwan Golf and Country Club.

“I wasn’t quite sure how much longer I would last [playing],” revealed Lu. “I pretty much lost all my confidence and trust because I had no power and I didn’t think I could play anymore.”

But played on he did as he fought back from two bogeys in his opening six holes by firing six birdies against two bogeys to win the Mercuries Taiwan Masters for the third time.

“After the surgery I took things slowly. I started step-by-step. Can you imagine, after the surgery, the doctor said I couldn’t even sneeze! So I took things slow. I started by hitting 100 balls and after that, I blanked out. It was so tiring. At that time, I thought I couldn’t play golf anymore.

“But my family pushed me. My wife, my father and my mother kept pushing me and kept motivating me to keep fighting. I’m here today because of them. The victory is for them as well. I’m blessed to have them in my life,” said Lu during his victory speech.

Rahil Gangjee (2018: Panasonic Open Golf Championship)

14 years. That was how long it took Rahil Gangjee to clinch his second Asian Tour title again.

The Indian said, ‘When you do not deliver after so many times, you start to doubt yourself’ but throughout those barren years, his attitude towards his craft was unwavering and he was definitely not ready to say his last goodbye to the sport.

Pressure does not care about form as Gangjee will tell you his ‘heart rate was up’ and ‘his mind was going all over the place’ and it was his sheer will power that brought him back into the winner’s circle when he closed with a three-under-par 68 for a one-shot victory over Korea’s Hyungsung Kim and Junggon Hwang at the Panasonic Open Golf Championship.

Despite the immense pressure on 18, Gangjee managed to hit his bunker shot out to within 10 feet of the pin.

He would go on to sink that decisive birdie and win his second Asian Tour title with his four-day total of 14-under-par 270.

Danny Chia (2015 Mercuries Taiwan Masters)

There was pressure and Danny Chia was obviously very nervous.

The Malaysian said: “I was really nervous heading into the last five holes. I told myself not to think too much but I just can’t help it. My hands were shaking and I was a little flustered on the back nine.”

With the chance to end his 13-year title drought on the line, Chia started strongly by firing three birdies in his opening five holes to wipe out his one-shot overnight deficit and take over the lead.

But he said nerves nearly wrecked havoc on his game after he made his first bogey of the day on the 11th hole. He went on to drop another three shots on 15, 16 and 17.

He remained in that prime spot till he sealed the deal with a tap-in par save on the 18th hole for a winning total of three-under-par 285 at the Taiwan Golf and Country Club.

Danny was overcome with emotion with the win.

“It’s been a long while, really. I couldn’t sleep last night. I thought of my win 13 years ago. This win is a great boost of confidence for me, especially having stayed away from competitive golf for close to one year after my neck surgery in 2013.

“I’m glad I held up my mental game this week,” said Chia.

David Gleeson (2008 Macau Open)

It was a tournament which David Gleeson badly wanted to win ‘by as many shots as possible’. And after six years from golf wilderness, the Australian made his return with his wire-to-wire success at the Macau Open in 2008.

Victory at the Macau Golf and Country Club was his first since 2002 and Gleeson showed that resolve when he nailed his second straight two-under-par 69 in the final round to win by three shots over Chinese Taipei’s Lin Wen-tang.

Lin signed for a 66 to claim second place while compatriot Kao Bo-song was even-par for the day and finished in lone third spot.

But it was Gleeson who fended off a strong charge from the Chinese Taipei duo of Lin and Kao to taste success for the second time on the Asian Tour.

“I told my caddie (Sanker Ganesan) at the start of the tournament that I wanted to win this week by as many shots as possible. I also told myself that if I don’t go for it, I won’t have a chance so I’m happy that I went for it this week,” said Gleeson.

He started the day with a drop shot on the opening hole and was level with Kao Bo-song who had birdied the second hole.

But Gleeson bounced back with five birdies against two bogeys before leaving the ball within a foot away from the cup for the win.

“I reached the little goals that I had set all day which proved to be the key. On the 18th hole, I just had to avoid the water and I knew I had it once the ball landed on the green,” said Gleeson, who two-putted for par and the win.

“I remember the time with my coach (Ken Berndt) who asked me how I am going to react after finishing a hole well. I replied that I wasn’t sure. I was more worried about what my friends would do to me in celebration and that’s exactly what happened today,” added the champion.

Daniel Chopra (2001 Mercuries Taiwan Masters)

Broke but not broken. Armed with only his desire to live out his golfing dreams of being the best he can be. Daniel Chopra was seeking a lifeline to revive his professional career.

Chopra went through the grind of Asian Tour and then moved to the European Challenge Tour before making it to the European Tour in 1995. He played in Europe between 1996 and 2000 and even came second in the Czech Open in 1996 and third at Madeira Open once.

But then form deserted him and he lost his card in Europe and, at one stage in 2001, was without a card on any Tour.

“I was keeping my card but I was treading water. To try to get ahead he decided to play the Japanese Tour as well in 2000. I succeeded in losing my card on both. Basically, I was suddenly almost broke with nowhere to play,” said Chopra.

Chopra was weeks, probably days, away from planning a shift to becoming a teaching professional.

Virtually down and out, help would eventually come from friendship with India’s Jeev Milkha Singh.

Singh not only help Chopra tide through the rough patch with a $5,000 loan but also put in word for him for a sponsor’s spot into the Acer Taiwan Open when he finished top-10.

The stunning comeback would be completed for the Indian-born Swede the following week at the Mercuries Taiwan Masters when he played the final round of his life with some amazing shots and won the event to turn his life around.

‘To win I had to two-putt from the back fringe straight down one of the grainiest greens in Asia. I thought my first putt was perfect and it trickled, trickled, trickled until it was maybe 18 inches from the hole.

“As I put my marker down I thought, “My God, what if you miss this?” And I never forget saying to myself, “One, my grandma could make this putt with one hand, and two, I could make this with one hand and never ever miss,” said Chopra to the media then.

Ends.

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