April 2021 | Asian Tour

Golfasian and WSJ+ partner with Asian Tour Destinations


Published on April 22, 2021

Asian Tour Destinations has welcomed two new partners to the fold with Golfasian and the Wall Street Journal+ (WSJ+) becoming part of the exclusive network of golf clubs, with direct ties to the Asian Tour.

Golfasian is the leading golf tour operator in Southeast Asia, while WSJ+ a premium membership program exclusively for subscribers of The Wall Street Journal.

They join at a time when Asian Tour Destinations currently boasts eight venues, representing the top-tier of golf clubs in Asia.

Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore was the first to join and they were soon followed by Black Mountain Golf Club in Hua Hin, Thailand; Classic Golf & Country Club in New Delhi, India; and Kota Permai Golf & Country Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Last year, Horizon Hills Golf & Country Club in Malaysia, Laguna Golf Lăng Cô in Vietnam, and Sapporo Country Club plus The North Country Golf Club, both in Japan, became part of the programme.

Cho Minn Thant, Commissioner and CEO of the Asian Tour, said: “The Asian Tour Destinations network continues to gain momentum and so this is an opportune time for Golfasian and Wall Street Journal+ to join. We are delighted they have chosen to partner with our Asian Tour Destinations programme and we look forward to working with them collaboratively.

“The concept of Asian Tour Destinations is to help build the ideal ecosystem for the golf course industry and related sectors in the region, so we feel Golfasian and Wall Street Journal+ are a perfect fit.”

“Golfasian is thrilled to join Asian Tour Destinations as we pride ourselves on working with the best golfing venues in Asia, while this partnership will allow us to further raise awareness of our brand alongside exploring future opportunities with the Asian Tour,” said Mark Siegel, Managing Director, Golfasian Co. Ltd.

“Our business is based on delivering a personalised golfing journey combined with exploring the culture of the countries visited, and our management has over 49 years’ experience in the golfing, travel, and hospitality segments, so this is an exciting opportunity that will add an extra dimension to our level of commitment and service.”

In particular, Golfasian will be able to provide unique travel package offers to experience Asian Tour Destinations venue members, benefit from promotional opportunities across all of the Asian Tour Destinations multi-media platforms, explore cross-promotional opportunities with current and future Asian Tour Destinations partners and in the future explore the potential for building golf and travel packages around the Asian Tour schedule, once circumstances permit.

WSJ+ has had a long-established relationship with the Asian Tour as an “Official Media Partner” and sees the transition of the affiliation to Asian Tour Destinations as a natural evolution for the partnership and an amplified benefit to WSJ+ members.

“This is another great opportunity for WSJ+ and our members to enjoy a range of unique benefits by working with the Asian Tour Destinations platform and in particular many of the world-class golfing venues across the Asian region,” said Charles Ho, Marketing Manager WSJ+.

“WSJ+ members will receive access to unique offers, and we will also gain exposure across the Asian Tour Destinations platform.”

Asian Tour Destinations was set up to provide an affiliate membership programme between the associated venues and the Asian Tour which will help grow the industry in the region.

Being a part of the Asian Tour Destinations network means that each venue is certified Tour calibre and operates a comprehensive range of facilities and services to their members and guests under tournament-ready conditions all-year round.

Among the core benefits, Asian Tour members are able to play and practice at each venue, allowing for the members at each club to enjoy direct engagement with the region’s best golfers.

Ends.


Published on April 21, 2021

India’s veteran golf star Arjun Atwal predicts his partnership with Thai ace Kiradech Aphibarnrat in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans will see them producing “awesome golf” as the duo seek to surprise the stars gathered at TPC Louisiana.

This week’s US$7.4 million PGA TOUR showpiece sees 80 two-man teams slugging it out under a different format as in a typical week, with Four-Ball being used in the first and third rounds and Foursomes (alternate shot) in the second and final rounds.

Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer will defend the title they won in 2019 – there was no event last year due to COVID-19 – with the likes of Xander Schauffele/Patrick Cantlay, Matt Wolff/Collin Morikawa, Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson, Marc Leishman/Cameron Smith, Tony Finau/Cameron Champ and Sungjae Im/Byeong Hun An amongst the combinations tipped to contend.

Atwal, India’s first winner on the PGA TOUR, was happy to be picked by Kiradech. Both are former Asian No. 1s and have won a combined seven European Tour victories between them.

“There’s nothing to not like about Kiradech. He’s such a cool guy, and he’s laid back just like me. We recently played a few rounds together and I realised how similar his game is to mine, at least during my peak. I know he’s struggled a little bit over the last few weeks but I think he’s found his form and I think you’ll be seeing some awesome golf from us,” said the 48-year-old Atwal.

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA – MARCH 18: Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand plays his shot from the fifth tee during the first round of The Honda Classic at PGA National Champion course on March 18, 2021 in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images)

Kiradech has failed to find his best form for nearly two years now, missing six cuts in 10 starts in the current season which have left him in danger of losing his PGA TOUR card. He hopes that partnering one of Asia’s golf legends will provide the missing spark.

“The reason why I picked Arjun is because he’s one of the best Asian players ever. He’s won on the Asian Tour, European Tour and PGA TOUR and there’s no doubt in my mind why I picked him. He’s also such a nice guy, a very positive guy and I’m looking forward to playing alongside him. We’re very comfortable with each other and I’m sure we’re going to have a lot of fun,” said the 31-year-old Thai.

Both Asian stars are competing for the first time in the tournament under this new team format, although Kiradech will lean on his more experienced partner who finished fifth at TPC Louisiana in 2005 when it was played as an individual strokeplay event.

“I’ve had some success on this golf course. I was leading and had a mishap in the third round but I like the course and I’m loving it that I get to play with Kiradech,” said Atwal. “I asked Kiradech if he was interested in partnering and he said ‘yes’ as he thinks I’m good luck. Our style is pretty similar … he can hit a fade at will and I can hit a draw at will. So that works for us and we will strategize. Our short game is pretty similar too but his is actually fantastic. I think we will have a great week. One thing I know for sure is that we’ll have a lot of fun playing together,” said Atwal.

Kiradech thinks a change to the team format will do him wonders as he seeks to improve on his current 183rd ranking on the FedExCup points list. The Top-125 at the end of the Regular Season in August keep their cards and also qualify for the lucrative FedExCup Playoffs.

“My game has been good over the last few days. We’ve been practising together and I think we’ll have a chance to do well. For the past two years, I’ve not been playing my best golf and not playing my A-game but now I feel my game is coming back,” said Kiradech.

“I just need someone to trust in me and believe in me and the right role model is Arjun. It’ll be a pleasure to play with him and I want to thank him for spending time with me. I’ve not set a target that we need to do well or need to win as we just want to enjoy ourselves. I’m sure this week will be one of the best times in my golf career.”


Published on

Thailand’s Itthipat Buranatanyarat is another of his country’s emerging young players – as demonstrated by his three wins on the Asian Development Tour (ADT). We spoke to him at the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship, the All Thailand Golf Tour and ADT event he claimed in 2019, earlier this year and got up to speed on what he has been up to.

COVID-19 has made life difficult for everyone. How has it been for you Itthipat?

I have tried to take the positives out of it and spend more time with my family, which has been great. I still kept practicing and working out. I am a professional golfer so it’s my routine. During the pandemic, I had a lot more time to play golf in Thailand and meet many people.

I also did some teaching but nothing too serious. I just wanted to give something back to the community and help people enjoy golf more. Most were junior golfers between 4-15 years old. I received positive feedback and really enjoyed it.

How much have you enjoyed playing on the Asian Tour?

The Asian Tour has been great for me, even though I lost my Tour card after playing a few seasons. But, I got my card back again in 2020 and had the opportunity to play in three big tournaments: the Hong Kong Open, the SMBC Singapore Open and the Bandar Malaysian Open. It was a great experience playing with many big-name players in those events. I was very satisfied with my performance before the season was put on hold because of the  pandemic.

Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

You have put in some good performance on the Asian Tour. What are the areas of your game you have to work on to improve?

After returning to the Asian Tour, I have tried my best to improve everything. Then during the pandemic, I had a lot more time to practice on my own. And having taken such a long break without any competition, I have had more time to prepare myself and get ready for the Tour restart.

You won the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship in 2019, probably the biggest win of your career. How important was the victory for you?

The Boonchu Ruangkit Championship is co-sanctioned between the All Thailand Golf Tour and the Asian Development Tour (ADT). It meant a lot to me; I felt like it unlocked and improved my game. It also helped me claim the All Thailand Golf Tour Order of Merit that year and finish in the top-five on the ADT Order of Merit – which allowed me to get my Asian Tour card and return to the Tour again.

Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

What are your memories of that week and did you have a feeling you could win?

At that time, I did not think about winning but I remember that it was one of my best performances. I played without pressure in the final round. I just tried to concentrate and focus on my game. I could go out and play, enjoy and have fun. It was the key to my success.

How old were you when you started playing, and who taught you?

I started playing golf when I was 10 years old. My first teacher was a former national golfer, Sitthichon Samransuk. My father taught me as well when I was a kid. I followed him to the driving range and one day I told him that I wanted to try a swing, so he got me a club and I hit it. It was not too hard from the beginning because I like sports and my family have always supported me.

Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

Who was your golfing idol growing up?

When I was young, my idol was Tiger Woods. He is a super talented golfer and one of the most inspirational golfers. In Thailand my idol is Boonchu Ruangkit, he is a legend in Thailand and like a big brother for all Thai golfers as well.

What are your plans and objectives in the future?

I want to keep playing on the Asian Tour and I’m aiming to win an event, I think I have a chance to do that in the future. I also look forward to playing in Japan, as that is part of my plan. However, my big goal is to play on the European and PGA Tours, but I will have to do really well on the Asian Tour, that would be the first step. During the pandemic, I also started to think about setting up a small business in the future.

 

 

 


Published on April 19, 2021

American John Catlin, a four-time winner on the Asian Tour, continued his remarkable rise in the game by claiming the Austrian Golf Open on Sunday – his third victory on the European Tour in just eight months.

The 30-year-old Californian prevailed after a thrilling sudden-death play-off against German Maximilian Kieffer, which lasted five holes over the par-three 18th at Diamond Country Club, near Vienna.

The German found the water, that guards the front of the green on 18, three times on the fifth play-off hole to hand victory to Catlin.

They had finished the tournament tied on 14 under, after Catlin closed with a seven-under 65 and Kieffer, chasing his first win on the European Tour, a 66.

Catlin and Kieffer congratulate each other after the play-off. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Catlin took the Asian Tour by storm in recent years – he triumphed three times in 2018 and once in 2019, plus claimed two titles on the Asian Development Tour – and is now intensifying his reputation as a clutch putter and closer in Europe.

His victory makes it three wins in his last 13 starts and moves him into the top 25 on the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex.

He will also break into the top-100 on the Official World Golf Ranking – which will be updated later today.

“I’d love to crack that top-50 in the world,” he said. “Just to get a chance to play in some Major Championships – I’ve actually never played in a Major. I’m thinking this gives me a very good chance to play in the US PGA Championship, that was kind of my goal.

“Hopefully it’s good enough and to get into those events and to have the chance to win a Major, that’s been my goal since I was a kid.

Catlin plays his tee shot on the second. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

“Winning is never easy, it doesn’t matter what tour you’re playing on and to have gotten this one is definitely something special.”

They had a birdie chance each on the first two play-off holes and Kieffer holed a 30 footer on the third to pile on the pressure but Catlin also made his birdie from a third of the distance.

A stunning bunker shot helped Catlin save par on the fourth trip up the 18th before Kieffer found water once from the tee and twice from the drop zone to make the result a formality despite Catlin finding sand again.

“It’s always tough to watch that happen,” Catlin added. “We’re out here giving it our all, he’s obviously a very, very accomplished player and to come out on top is something I will always cherish.”

Kieffer said: “Standing here I feel like I’m only going to get better. Sometimes it doesn’t happen that way, you never know in golf, but I’m confident about the game and I felt good.

“Every shot on the play-off felt good too but the last shot was a bit stupid, I got a bit too aggressive.”

Germany’ s Martin Kaymer, winless since the 2014 US Open, continued his comeback by claiming third place outright. The two-time Major champion finished three shots short of the play-off.

 

 


Published on April 16, 2021

Jeev Milkha Singh enjoyed many great victories during his illustrious career but perhaps his finest was his memorable win in the Volvo China Open in 2006. It was his first success in seven years and opened the floodgates for three more wins that season and another five in the ensuing years. We look back at the victory – achieved on this day 15 years ago – in China’s capital city, which marked the Indian star’s revival.

Jeev Milkha Singh’s incredible success and endless list of firsts achieved for his country in the game gloss over the fact that there were some serious bumps in the road for the Indian legend.

When he claimed the Lexus International in Thailand in 1999 for his ninth win in Asia, and third on the Asian Tour, all seemed in order and his continued rise to stardom on the perfect trajectory.

BEIJING – APRIL 16: Jeev Milkha Singh of India with the winners trophy after the final round of the Volvo China Open at the Beijing Honghua International Golf Club on April 16, 2006 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

However, having already been a professional for seven years, the effect of pounding golf balls, week in, week out, finally caught up with him and he was beset by injuries – in particular, a career-threatening wrist injury.

He struggled, season after season, until the turning point – an epiphany of sorts – came in the world’s most populous country in the second week of April, 2006.

In the 12th staging of the Volvo China Open he emerged from a stressful seven-year drought to claim the title and signify his return to the topflight – much to the relief of his millions of fans.

He was 34 years old at the time and carded a final round 70 at the Honghua International Golf Club, in Beijing, for a 10 under par total of 278 to lift the trophy by one shot from Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

BEIJING – APRIL 16: Jeev Milkha Singh of India celebrates with his caddy after winning the Volvo China Open at the Beijing Honghua International Golf Club on April 16, 2006 in Beijing, China. (Photo by Andrew Wong/Getty Images)

To say it was an emotional victory is an understatement and it gave him the final proof that his years in the wilderness were over.

“This is fantastic,” he said at the time. “When I was injured, I didn’t know if I was going to come back in the sport. When I came back I wasn’t thinking the same way. I was struggling, I was putting pressure on myself and I was getting down. And after that, you don’t think right. I started working hard and the wrist became better and things started looking better for me. I’ve just won and it’s one of the best feelings.

“I just can’t explain this feeling. It’s like a dream come true. I’ve always tried hard to win and today, I just went in there with reverse psychology thinking that if it doesn’t happen, never mind. I just wanted to give it my best shot. And it worked out perfect for me. I’m really excited and happy the way it worked out.”

One shot adrift of playing partner David Lynn from England at the start of the day, things did not start promisingly for Singh when he bogeyed the opening hole. But he regrouped bravely and birdies at the third, fifth and seventh holes saw him reach the turn in 34 and one shot clear at the top of the leaderboard.

Fernandez-Castano tried his best to spoil Singh’s comeback win, especially on the 365-yard 17th.

The Spaniard hit a spectacular six-iron second shot, from sand, which finished five feet from the pin.

The resulting birdie three pulled him to within a shot of Singh, playing in the final match behind, but any real hope he had of forcing a play-off ended when he pulled his drive into the woods at the last and had to chip out one handed and backwards on his way to a bogey five, a 70, a nine under par total of 279 and second place outright.

Singh, who had not dropped a shot all day since his blemish on the opening hole, made bogey on the last, three putting from 40 feet after his second shot landed on the front edge of the putting surface.

But it was enough to secure the title and restore his confidence and faith in his game.

Earlier in the day, a bizarre incident had threatened to thwart his challenge.

On the 11th hole his wayward drive ended in the woods, where a spectator picked up the ball and ran away with it, forcing Singh to ask permission from a tournament referee to replace it.

“My ball was down there and this guy was walking with my golf ball in his hand,” said Singh. “There were so many people saying so many things to him and he got confused and scared and just let the ball go.

“I just told him to relax, and the rules official came and told the guy to tell me where the ball stopped. The person asks him, and while he was doing it someone from the gallery came out and kicked him.”

It was the same calmness in the face of adversity that saw him go on to complete his comeback win and begin the most successful chapter in his career.


Published on April 13, 2021

After over a quarter of a century officiating on the Asian Tour, Thailand’s Wanchai Meechai has chosen to stepdown from his role as Senior Tournament Director, and referee on an event-by-event basis. We talked to him about his journey with the Asian Tour, and also got the back story about how his daughter Wichanee Meechai – currently playing on the LPGA Tour – started playing the game.

If you have been to an Asian Tour event, at some point over the past couple of decades, the chances are that you will have seen Wanchai Meechai on the course, keeping a watchful eye over proceedings.

“I have travelled to almost every event since starting all those years ago, and I’ve technically been with the Asian Tour for 26 years now,” said the 67-year-old, Senior Tournament Director on the Asian Tour, from his home in Bangkok this month, after announcing he plans to wind down his career with the Tour.

He uses the word “technically” because his introduction to the Tour was a gradual process.

CHON BURI-THAILAND- Asian Tour referee Wanchai Meechai of Thailand pictured at the Singha Thailand Champions Tour 2021 event at the Burapha Golf & Resort, Chon Buri, Thailand. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

Rules Rookie

The popular Thai was a Tour professional for five years – he turned professional in 1987 – before his friend Somchai Hiranpruek, an official on the local Thai Tour, refined his knowledge of the rules and also taught him how to set up a golf course for a professional tournament.

“After that I decided to become a rules official,” said Wanchai.

His big break came in 1995 when the Thailand Golf Association sent him to assist the Tournament Director, David Parkin, at the Asian PGA International – an Asian Tour event played at Sriracha Golf Club, near Pattaya.

“That was when I first met David Parkin, my first international teacher. He taught me how to set up the course, mark the course and, basically, how to do everything. It was very hands-on then. He made me learn by doing,” adds Wanchai.

He also started to work at Thai PGA events and his education and exposure to life on Tour was further enhanced when Khun Santi Bhirombhakdi, President of Singha Corporation – the long-standing main supporter of golf in Thailand – asked him to be a translator for the country’s top players such as: Boonchu Ruangkit, Thaworn Wiratchant, Chawalit Plaphol, Prayad Marksaeng, and Thammanoon Sriroj.

He says: “They could not speak English then, so I travelled with them and helped them with translation and assisted with whatever they needed, for a while.”

Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand assisted by his caddy, Wanchai Meechai of Thailand, during a practice round at the Scotscraig Golf Club, Fife, Scotland. Jaidee will pre-qualify on Sunday July 16th for The Open Championship at St Andrews to be held in July 2000. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

It was not long before the Asian Tour regularly engaged his services as a rules official – something that Singha helped him with by assisting with expenses.

“David Parkin came to realise that I was a good assistant to him, so he hired me to work with him at the Asian Tour. I was working with him on an event basis and it was only in 2004 that I officially joined the Tour as a permanent staff. I am the first Thai professional to join the Asian Tour as a member of staff,” said Wanchai.

It was a landmark achievement for the popular Thai and, indeed, his country.

Globetrotting for golf

He says there have been many highlights along the way, not least the chance to travel and work at the biggest tournaments in the game.

“I think the most memorable moments in my career were my experiences at Augusta. I was very lucky to be there for The Masters Tournament three times. I felt very proud to be representing the Asian Tour there,” he said.

He also went to The Open on four occasions, The US Open once, and the PGA Championship at Wentworth six times.

LYTHAM ST ANNES, ENGLAND – JULY 21: Asian Tour rules official Wanchai Meechai of Thailand on the 1st tee pictured on day three of the 141st Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes on July 21, 2012 in Lytham St Annes, England. (Photo by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour/Asian Tour via Getty Images)

“I had the chance to go to Switzerland as well. I think I made seven to eight trips there for the Omega European Masters. It’s really beautiful and I must say it’s my favourite amongst the places I have travelled to so far. Even though I didn’t venture out of the course!” he adds.

“I also got to see snow for the first time in Arizona, when we were there for a WGC event. The weatherman suddenly said it might snow. No one was prepared for it. I remember I was on the course without any winter gear on! The buggy I was on did not have roof as well. It was so cold. It’s funny now thinking back about it.”

DUBLIN, OH – OCTOBER 06: (L-R) Wanchai Meechai and Brendan de Jonge of the International Team
on the first hole during the Final Round Singles Matches of The Presidents Cup at the Muirfield Village Golf Club on October 6, 2013 in Dublin, Ohio. (Photo by Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)

Proud Father

While life as an Asian Tour official was all consuming, there was also another very big part of his life that was to also make a significant impression on planet golf: his daughter Wichanee.

“I took both my daughters (Wannisa and Wichanee) to practice at the Army course when they were about eight to nine years-old. I bought a set of clubs for both of them and made them practice but they were not very interested. They would hit two to three balls and then went to eat. I eventually gave up after a while as I thought they were not interested. I told them it’s not going to work out and asked them to go back to their studies,” said Wanchai.

CARLSBAD, CA – MARCH 23: Wichanee Meechai of Thailand plays during the practice round for the KIA Classic at the Aviara Golf Club on March 23, 2021 in Carlsbad, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Game over it appeared, but not quite.

He adds: “They were fine with it. My elder daughter (Wannisa) was very good with her studies. My younger one (Wichanee) was good as well but the elder one was better. To my surprise, when Wichanee was around 14 years old, she came to me and said she wanted to play golf.”

He told her that if she wanted to play golf, she must follow his instructions to the T … and the tee.

Wanchai with his daughters Wichanee (left) and Wanissa (right) (Courtesy of Wanchai Meechai)

Wanchai wasted no time in capitalizing on his daughter’s sudden interest in the game and took her out from a normal school and sent her to a special college where she could study two days a week and play golf and practice the other days. And while he coached her in the beginning he soon felt it best for her to see a “proper coach”.

“I said: ‘Don’t tell me you’re not good. If you’re not good, go and practice’. This is what I always told her. She had very good self-discipline. I never had to wake her up to practice or exercise. She knows what she has to do. Every morning, she would go to exercise and practice by herself,” commented Wanchai.

Wichanee also trained at Thongchai Jaidee’s academy and shortly after turning professional, when she was 19 years old, she won her first event on the Thai LPGA, and later claimed titles in China, the Philippines and Chinese Taipei.

And of course since 2017, she has been a regular on the LPGA Tour, gradually making her mark there with three top-10 finishes to date and with more expected from the 28-year-old.

CHON BURI-THAILAND- L-R Thongchai Jaidee, Boonchu Ruangkit and Asian Tour referee Wanchai Meechai of Thailand pictured at the Singha Thailand Champions Tour 2021 event at the Burapha Golf & Resort, Chon Buri, Thailand. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

Super Senior

While Wichanee continues to work hard on building her career, her father has plans for the next chapter of his life.

“I’m going into a semi-retirement now but actually, I am still fit. I went for a heart bypass last year but I’ve recovered and I’m well now. I will still work for the Asian Tour on an event-by-event basis. I am just no longer a permanent staff with the Tour,” said Wanchai.

He also wants to spend time helping to promote women’s golf in Thailand as he says although the country has so many great players, he feels there could be many more.

And having watched so much golf overs the years, and seen his daughter hit the big-time, he still has that itch, the competitive one, to get out and play.

CHON BURI-THAILAND- Asian Tour referee Wanchai Meechai of Thailand pictured at the Singha Thailand Champions Tour 2021 event at the Burapha Golf & Resort, Chon Buri, Thailand. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.

“I went to play on the Thai Champions Tour. They have a super senior category. It was great to be back playing competitively. I really enjoyed it. I get to see all my old friends and get to talk to them.

“Just last week, I met Boonchu, Thongchai, Thaworn, Prayad at the event. I know I can’t beat them but it was fun. I am looking forward to the next one.”

CHON BURI-THAILAND- L-R – Thaworn Wiratchant, Thongchai Jaidee, Asian Tour referee Wanchai Meechai. Prayad Marksaeng and Boonchu Ruangkit of Thailand pictured at the Singha Thailand Champions Tour 2021 event at the Burapha Golf & Resort, Chon Buri, Thailand. Picture by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.


Published on April 12, 2021

Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama won The Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on Sunday to become the first player from his country to win a men’s Major championship.

The 29-year-old finished a shot ahead of American rookie Will Zalatoris, after carding a final-round one-over-par 73 for a tournament total of 10-under.

He also became only the second Asian-born player to triumph in a Major – after Korean YE Yang’s victory in the 2009 US PGA Championship.

Matsuyama started the final day with a four-stroke advantage over four golfers — England’s Justin Rose, Australia’s Marc Leishman and Americans Xander Schauffele and Zalatoris.

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 11: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan plays a shot from a bunker on the second hole during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

He survived some mistakes late on, and a challenge from Schauffele, to claim the Green Jacket in thrilling circumstances.

Schauffele fired four straight birdies before his bid for honours ended with a triple-bogey on the par-three 16th.

“I felt nervous from the start of the day and right through until the end,” said Matsuyama.

“I was thinking about [my family] all the way around. I’m really happy I was able to play well for them.”

AUGUSTA, GEORGIA – APRIL 11: Hideki Matsuyama of Japan hugs his caddie, Shota Hayafuji, on the 18th green after winning the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2021 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

He recovered from a bogey on the first with birdies on the second, eighth and ninth. He then extended his lead to six on the back nine, but he gave Schauffele some hope when he found water going for the green in two on the par-five 15th.

After Schauffele’s fourth straight birdie, the lead was down to two shots with three to play, but the American’s charge came to an end on the 16th hole.

Matsuyama found a greenside bunker on the 18th, but splashed out to give himself two putts to win the title.

“Hopefully I’ll be a pioneer and many other Japanese will follow,” said the Japanese star, the winner of five titles on the PGA Tour and eight on the Japan Golf Tour Organization.

 


Published on April 7, 2021

Korean KJ Choi may have just fallen short of winning a Major but his performances in The Masters Tournament, which tees-off at Augusta National Golf Club tomorrow, were an inspiration to Asian golfers and paved the way for players from that continent to continue where he left off. We look back at the two memorable Masters that could have easily seen the Korean don on a Green Jacket.

When Korean Sungjae Im tied for second in last year’s Masters, five shots behind American Dustin Johnson, there was no doubt the result – the best finish by an Asian at Augusta National Golf Club – had its genesis in the genius of his illustrious compatriot KJ Choi.

Choi, much to the disappointment of millions of his fans, never won a Major but he went further than any other Asian had gone before in the Majors by finishing in the top-10 on six occasions. He was a pathfinder for Asian golf and his lack of silverware in the Majors was compensated for by eight victories on the PGA Tour – most notably The Players Championship in 2011.

AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 11: Ernie Els of South Africa chats with K.J. Choi of Korea on the 12th tee during the final round of the Masters at the Augusta National Golf Club on April 11, 2004 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

And although his friend and countryman YE Yang spoilt the party at the Choi hacienda by becoming the first Asian to win a Major, when he triumphed in the 2009 US PGA Championship, it was Choi’s results in the Majors there were perhaps the greatest inspiration for players from the Far East.

To be more specific, it was his heroic play in the Masters that acted as a beacon of hope for the next generation.

Most notably, it was his third-place finish in the Masters in 2004 and equal-fourth placing in 2010 that will be long remembered.

AUGUSTA, UNITED STATES: K.J. Choi of Korea tips his hat on the 11th fairway after after his eagle during final round action of the Masters Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club 11 April 2004 in Augusta, GA. Choi started the round at 3 under par. AFP PHOTO/Stan HONDA (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images)

EAGLE SEASON

In 2004, Choi had Asian fans on the edge of their seats when he shot 31 on the back-nine on Sunday to finish three shots behind American Phil Mickelson. South African Ernie Els claimed second, one behind the winner.

Choi, playing with Els, began the final round three shots off the lead and struggled on the front nine with two bogeys, making the turn in 38. But a pure five-iron on the 11th – the third most difficult hole of the week – changed everything for the Korean.

His ball rolled straight into the cup for an eagle, only the third eagle on 11 in Masters history.

Choi, 33 at the time, then closed with birdies on 13, 14 and 16 to shoot 69 and record his career-best performance in a Major.

A remarkable performance considering he made his debut in the event a year earlier, finishing in a for 15th, demonstrating his immediate affinity for the tournament.

“More years, more experience, more comfortable,” said Choi at the time, who opened with a front-nine 30 on Friday to tie a course record.

The six-time Asian Tour winner added: “This is going to help me positively with my swing and the development of my game.”

AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 08: Tiger Woods (R) plays his tee shot on the first hole as K.J. Choi of Korea (L) and a gallery of fans look on during the first round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

TIGER WATCH

Six years later Choi again came close to claiming the year’s first Major.

Starting the day four strokes behind overnight leader Lee Westwood from England, he briefly joined Mickelson in a share of the lead with eight holes to play before slipping back with bogeys on 13 and 14.

He retaliated back with a birdie at the 15th but that was where the rally ended. He returned a 69 to finish in a tie for fourth with American Tiger Woods, five shots adrift of Mickelson, who claimed his third Green Jacket.

Choi fittingly summed up what the result really meant: “In the past … the mindset of the Asian players was that when it comes to the Masters, there was a fear factor there, that we can’t do it.

AUGUSTA, GA – APRIL 08: KJ Choi of South Korea (L) shakes hands with Tiger Woods on the 18th green during the first round of the 2010 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 8, 2010 in Augusta, Georgia. (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

“Now I hope that this gives motivation for the younger players, other players, that they can do it at big tournaments like the Masters.”

Choi had the added pressure of partnering Woods for all four rounds as the world number one made his return after admitting to a string of extra-marital affairs.

“It was exciting like 2004, but only this year I think it was, on a personal level, it was better for me because my playing level has improved a lot compared to 2004,” said Choi.

“I think it was more gratifying for me this year and the fans were very supportive and just playing with Tiger for the last four days it was a very good experience for me.”

Choi will not be playing in the Masters this year but four Asians will be competing: Im, Chinese-Taipei’s CT Pan, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, and Korean Siwoo Kim.

Pan thrilled his army of fans back home by finishing equal seventh last year; Matsuyama enjoyed a best finish of fifth in 2015; while Kim was tied 21st in 2019.

All performances that suggest more is to come from Asia’s current generation of golfers this week; all performances that pay homage to KJ Choi, arguably, the architect of their success.


Published on April 5, 2021

India’s Anirban Lahiri could finally put a smile back on his face and breathe a sigh of relief after months of struggles on the golf course.

After knocking in a closing birdie on the last at TPC San Antonio, the 33-year-old signed for a 3-under 69 to post his best finish of the season on the PGA TOUR with a fifth place finish at the Valero Texas Open on Sunday. His 10-under 278 total was some eight shots behind winner Jordan Spieth but the margin wasn’t a concern to Lahiri at all.

He made birdies on three of the four par-5s, including a five-footer on the last and earned 110 FedExCup points to move from 125th to 94th on the latest standings which enhanced his hopes of qualifying for the lucrative Playoffs in August.

Starting the day five back of co-leaders Spieth and Matt Wallace, the former Asian No. 1 put a stop to a poor run of form where he has missed five cuts from seven starts this year with some wonderful ball striking. All the hard work put in at the practice range in recent weeks has finally paid off, but Lahiri knows there is still plenty of work ahead if he is to eventually win on the PGA TOUR.

“I didn’t quite get into the hunt … there was too much separation between the leader group and the rest of us. I think overall through the week, I didn’t convert as many of my opportunities. I definitely hit the ball good enough to contend and maybe win but my bunker play and my short game, and putting from mid-range to short range was below par,” said Lahiri.

“Those are the things that I need to work on. I’ve put a lot of work in the full swing and ball striking in the last month or so, and to see that working and holding up under pressure is very pleasing. Overall, it was a great week for me. I’m very happy with how I kept my composure and kind of stuck to what I needed to do. It was one of those weeks that I could have done a lot more but I’d rather build on this and work on some of the areas where I came up short on.”

Prior to the week, Lahiri ranked a lowly 150th in Strokes Gained: Tee to Green but he has worked hard on his swing which he said needed some “simplifying”. He ranked 25thin the Tee to Green stat category this week. With his coach Vijay Divecha scheduled to visit Lahiri in the U.S. soon, there is plenty for him to look forward to as the TOUR approaches the business end of the season.

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – APRIL 03: Anirban Lahiri of India plays his shot from the 14th tee during the third round of Valero Texas Open at TPC San Antonio Oaks Course on April 03, 2021 in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

“I gave myself a lot of good looks. The first day, I was guilty of not hitting it quite as close. The second day, I missed lots of opportunities, and could have shot 5 to 6-under. Third round, I hit it even better than I hit it today. I felt like if I was scoring better, I could have shot a few 5, 6, 7 under and that was the difference in the end,” said Lahiri.

“I need to clean up on some of the areas like I chipping and bunker play which has been my strength. I’ll go back to the drawing board and spend time getting more confidence in those areas and also in my mid-range and short range putts. I’ve done well outside of 15 feet but not done well inside of 12 feet. Those are the areas that I’ll be working on and hopefully get better in time to come.”

Korea’s Si Woo Kim closed with a 70 to finish T23 on 284 alongside countryman K.H. Lee while Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama and veteran K.J. Choi were a further stroke back in a share of 30th place.

Spieth, 27, claimed his 12th PGA TOUR victory following a final round 66. It has been 1,351 days, and 83 starts on the PGA TOUR from his last victory at the 2017 Open Championship. “I feel grateful,” Spieth said. “It’s been a road that’s had a lot of tough days. It kind of bounces off and on right now when it hits me that I’m back in the winner’s circle. I’ve had people in my corner that have always believed in me, even when I’ve kind of believed less in myself.”


Published on April 1, 2021

Commencing with the 102nd edition of the New Zealand Open, New Zealand’s premier golfing event will be played over two courses at Millbrook Resort between February 24 – 27, 2022.

On the back of the development of another world-class nine holes at Millbrook Resort, which is due to open for member play in late 2021,  these new holes, combined with the existing nine, will complete the new championship “Coronet” course.

A field of around 152 professionals and 152 amateurs will tee it up over the new championship “Coronet” course and the ‘Remarkables’ course (previously known as the Arrows 9 and the Remarkables 9) on days one and two of the event, with the Coronet course being used for the final two days. Tournament organisers will however incorporate the Remarkables closing par-3 hole into the final day, to ensure that this exciting hole continues to be the climatic final hole.

Millbrook Resort’s Owner and Managing Director Gota Ishii, is delighted to have Millbrook host all four competitive rounds for the first time. “Since our investment in the new nine holes, it has been a dream to host the entire New Zealand Open tournament at Millbrook. This only enhances Millbrook as one of the premiere golf resorts in the South Pacific, now delivering not one, but two championship courses” said Ishii.

New Zealand Open Chairman, John Hart, expressed his pleasure at having the ongoing support of all three of Queenstown’s major courses, adding his excitement in seeing top professionals tackling the new course at Millbrook, in particular.

Hart added, “Millbrook has in recent years become the home of the New Zealand Open, and to have them host all four tournament rounds is testament to the backing they have given the event.”

“The new nine holes that will now make up the Coronet course are outstanding, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the professionals battle it out on this challenging new course. This signals a new era for the tournament and is very exciting all round” said Hart.

The Hills will continue to be closely involved, with the Saturday pro-am event (featuring professionals and amateurs who miss the day two cut) to be played at The Hills.

The Hills are delighted at maintaining a role in hosting the New Zealand Open, an event that was first brought to The Hills in 2007.

Sir Michael Hill commended Millbrook on effectively adding another full course to the region with the development of their new nine holes, adding that “It’s been wonderful to be part of tournaments evolution over the last 13 years. It makes sense for Millbrook to now take over the full hosting of competition play adding a new dimension to the New Zealand Open. We are pleased to continue our involvement by hosting a number of amateurs and professional players on the Saturday of Open week, I’m sure they will thoroughly enjoy The Hills experience.”

Jack’s Point continue their ten-year support of the tournament by hosting some of the other golfing events that now make up what has become a weekly ‘festival of golf’.

The TV broadcast will cover all four days of live play, and will include highlight packages from both Jack’s Point and The Hills, presenting the very best of golf in the Central Otago region.

The tournament will be broadcast to over thirty countries round the globe and will continue to showcase all three of New Zealand’s great courses to a global audience with a potential audience of over 320 million households.

Photo: Views from the incredible new 11th hole that will feature in the championship Coronet course at Millbrook Resort, Queenstown (Credit: Millbrook Resort