The PGA Tour is back in Asia, the most rapidly developing golf market in the world, this week for the CIMB Classic at Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club’s West Course in Malaysia.
This is the third event of the 2015-16 season, and next week the circuit moves on to the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.
However, the Presidents Cup earlier this month at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club-Korea in Incheon, South Korea, might have the most lasting effect on the game on the Asian continent.
“I told the players (at the Presidents Cup), 20 years from now, you look back, and this will be one of the milestones in terms of where golf is in Asia,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said.
“I think this is a great step in the Presidents Cup to be in Asia, coincidentally with a year where there are four Asian countries represented on the (International) team.
“Says a lot about the way golf is developing in this region of the world, and I think it was a great choice to come to Korea because of their ability to stage big events and because both on the men and women’s side, the way they are developing elite players.”
Korea is mad about golf and has been since Se Ri Pak won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open in 1998, the first two of her 25 LPGA Tour victories, which include five majors.
The women still are far ahead of the men. Top-ranked Inbee Park and 10 other South Korean women have claimed titles in the Grand Slam events, not counting Lydia Ko of New Zealand, who was born in South Korea.
K.J. Choi is the greatest male golfer from Korea, with eight PGA Tour titles, although he never has won a major and his window of opportunity probably is closed at the age of 45.
Y.E. Yang is the only South Korean to win a PGA Tour major, incredibly taking down none other than Tiger Woods with a brilliant finish in the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine. Woods hasn’t won a major since.
Others who were born in Korea and made their way to the PGA Tour include Kevin Na and Charlie Wi, who moved with their families to the United States, and Danny Lee, who plays for New Zealand. The top male players competing as South Koreans include Seung-Yul Noh, Bio Kim and Sangmoon Bae, who won the 2014 Frys.com Open.
Bae played in the recent Presidents Cup but had to stay home to start a mandatory two-year stint in the Korean military.
“I think you’ve seen how the ladies dominate their tour,” said England’s Lee Westwood, who has won 13 times in Asia during his career. “It makes me wonder why the men are a little bit behind.
“I’ve heard various things, like national (military) service gets in the way with the lads a little bit. But the signs are there that they are starting to catch up.”
The game is taking off all over Asia, not only South Korea.
Yani Tseng put Taiwanese golf back on the map by winning five LPGA Tour majors through 2011 and climbing to No. 1 in the Rolex Women’s World Golf Rankings some 40 years after Lu-Liang Huan became a national hero.
Mr. Lu, as he became known in Britain, won 22 times worldwide from 1959 to 1985, and in 1971 finished one stroke behind Lee Trevino in the 100th Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.
Other stars came out of Asia, but Isao Aoki and Jumbo Ozaki of Japan are the only men from their continent to be enshrined in the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla.
Aoki won 73 times worldwide on six tours, including nine times on the PGA Tour, but perhaps his most memorable moment was finishing second to Nicklaus in the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol.
Ozaki, the oldest of three brothers who played pro golf, claimed 94 victories on the Japan Golf Tour and led the money list 12 times. He claimed 19 other titles around the world and had three top-10 finishes in the majors, but he never won on the PGA Tour.
Hideki Matsuyama (pictured) and Ryo Ishikawa are carrying the Japanese flag on the PGA Tour these days, and Matsuyama was joined on the International team in the Presidents Cup by Bae, Lee, Thongchai Jaidee of Thailand and Anirban Lahiri of India.
And you just know there are many more on the way.
–Story courtesy of The Sports Xchange, TSX Golf Editor Tom LaMarre