By Chuah Choo Chiang
October will highlight a truly momentous month for professional golf in Asia with the staging of three mega PGA TOUR tournaments in Malaysia, South Korea and China offering a super cool US$26 million in total prize money.
International superstars led by world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, third-ranked Hideki Matsuyama, world No. 4 Justin Thomas and Major champions Jason Day and Adam Scott are amongst the big names headed full speed to the Far East, long regarded as the next bastion of growth for the game.
The US$7 million CIMB Classic at TPC Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where Thomas will bid to become the first player since Steve Stricker in 2011 to secure a three-peat of wins, will get Asia’s festival of golf rocking and rolling when the only PGA TOUR tournament in Southeast Asia returns for its eighth edition from October 12-15.
The TOUR then breaks new ground with its first official FedExCup tournament in South Korea when the US$9.25 million CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES makes its debut. CJ Corporation, one of the nation’s largest conglomerates with a global vision, signed a 10-year deal to host what will be one the world’s most lucrative golf tournaments.
Day, Scott and Thomas, who has enjoyed a standout 2016-17 campaign with five wins including a first Major triumph, will headline the CJ tournament which will also feature Korea’s newest star Si Woo Kim, winner of THE PLAYERS Championship in May.
The three-tournament extravaganza concludes with Asia’s lone and prized World Golf Championships showpiece, the US$9.75 million WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai where Japan’s rising son Matsuyama will defend his title against a stellar field which includes top-ranked Johnson, winner of the tournament in 2013.
Against a backdrop of global stars headlining the exciting stretch of events which form the early 2017-18 PGA TOUR Fall schedule, the Asian Tour’s leading golfers such as S.S.P. Chawrasia, Scott Hend and young talent Phachara Khongwatmai, will have every opportunity to shine under the international spotlight.
The CIMB Classic, sanctioned with the Asian Tour, will include the leading 10 players from the region’s Order of Merit in addition to two Malaysians while the CJ CUP could see up to 20 Korean or Korean descent golfers going head-to-head with the game’s top stars as it lives up to the tournament’s tagline of “Bridge to Realization”. A victory at Jeju island will lead to a coveted PGA TOUR card and a world of earning and playing opportunities.
Similarly, leading players from Asia and China will also be exempt into the WGC-HSBC Champions where a golfer like Li Haotong, famous for his third-place finish at the British Open in July, can propel his career to America with a home victory.
There will be no doubting that Thomas will start as a firm favourite to sparkle in Asia, especially after a spectacular season. A return to Malaysia will provide happy memories as his first PGA TOUR title was recorded in the 2015 CIMB Classic. In eight rounds at TPC KL, he has accumulated 59 birdies, two eagles and stands at a staggering 49-under-par.
PGA TOUR commissioner Jay Monahan, during the launch of the CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES, hopes that the newest tournament on the schedule will positively shape the landscape of the game in South Korea and beyond.
“This announcement is a historic landmark for the PGA TOUR as we add another tournament in Asia. We had such a phenomenal experience in Korea at The Presidents Cup (in 2015), and we hoped an official, permanent event in this great country would be the result of that success,” said Monahan. “We have a tremendous population of Korean golfers on the PGA TOUR, and we anticipate that will continue as THE CJ CUP @ NINE BRIDGES inspires a new generation of players, not only in Korea, but also around the world.”
Since making its debut in 2005, the HSBC Champions has celebrated a myriad of international winners in a tournament many has labelled as “Asia’s Major”. Giles Morgan, HSBC Global Head of Sponsorship and Events, must take credit for being a driving force behind the tournament’s growth into a WGC tournament.
“WGC-HSBC Champions is our flagship event in global golf. Quality of field is the calling card for this tournament which has earned the reputation of ‘Asia’s Major’ and for the past three years we have attracted 40 of the world’s top 50 golfers. Following recent heroics, China’s leading players are truly coming of age at just the right time. This event means so much to them. It is their major. It first inspired them into the game then nurtured their skills. Now it gives this new generation a chance to unleash their talents against the world’s best. All in front their home fans. It’s a mouth-watering prospect.”
Indeed, it’s going to be a mouth-watering month of golf in Asia.