PGA Tour primed for its annual Far East feast
Three world-class tournaments, three exciting destinations and a whopping $26.5 million in prize money up for grabs.
Welcome to the PGA Tour’s annual October fest.
The tour heads east this month with successive weekly treats at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, CJ Cup in South Korea and the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in China.
The events attract the game’s biggest stars, with the likes of Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Justin Thomas, Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy all punching their tickets to Asia in chase of big purses, FedExCup points and the chance to be part of the game’s global growth.
“The PGA Tour is a global organization, we’ve got a global membership and we are an important part of a global sport,” said Jay Monahan, PGA Tour commissioner.
The $7 million CIMB Classic kickstarts the swing at TPC Kuala Lumpur from Oct 11-14, with veteran star Pat Perez defending his title against a stellar cast which includes 2017 FedExCup winner Justin Thomas, himself a double CIMB Classic champion in 2015 and ’16.
The $9.5 million CJ Cup, the newest addition to the PGA Tour’s schedule last season, will see Thomas returning to Nine Bridges on Jeju Island in search of a fourth win in the region before Asia’s lone World Golf Championships event, the WGC-HSBC Champions, wraps up the festivities with titleholder Justin Rose headlining the starry field at Sheshan International Golf Club.
When Monahan visited the inaugural CJ Cup last year, he the tour hopes to inspire many more people to take up golf, which reportedly now has more than 80 million players globally.
Asia’s growing middle class is expected to significantly raise that figure in years to come.
“It’s an honor to be in this golf-crazed market (South Korea) and it really is a remarkable market place for golf,” said Monahan.
“I think as you look to today and look to the future, 10 years from now and beyond, we hope we are inspiring a new generation of fans and new generation of players by having the best players of the world in South Korea for the CJ Cup.”
The stars have embraced the PGA Tour’s vision with both hands.
Not only do they enjoy the opportunity to perform in front of new fans, the diverse cultures from one city to the next is a strong pull in their decisions to venture abroad.
“The game is so global now,” said Perez, who won the CIMB Classic by four shots last year.
“I think it’s awesome that the tour has expanded outside North America. I think it’s important for the game. When I was coming up, the game wasn’t so global, but I think there are so many great young players worldwide that it’s important to get all of them together because you can see there’s so much competition going on.”
The PGA Tour’s collaboration with other golf bodies, including the Asian Tour, Korean PGA and China Golf Association, has provided positive influences, said India’s Anirban Lahiri.
“I think this is a great, great platform. A lot of players, of the 10 guys who qualified (from the Asian Tour for CIMB Classic), I think there’s a whole bunch who could contend. I learned so much from my first two or three times that I played this event,” said Lahiri.
“It also got me a chance to gauge what the level of golf is and where I needed to elevate my game to that level so that I could be full-time on the PGA Tour.
“For a lot of the young players, it will be the first step. But you never know where that path leads, so it’s great.”
Monahan is convinced the PGA Tour’s footprint in Asia can further contribute towards the game’s growing popularity.
“One of the six tenets to our mission statement is to grow the game, and any time we are actively growing, diversifying, developing the game, opening new markets, hopefully everybody that’s involved in the game benefits,” he said.
The writer is senior director of communications for the PGA Tour and is based at TPC Kuala Lumpur. He can be reached at email@example.com