| Asian An­gle

A grow­ing le­gion of young and ex­cit­ing Asian tal­ents are now re­al­is­ing their Amer­i­can dream on the PGA TOUR.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By Chuah Choo Chi­ang

Rep­re­sent­ing the pin­na­cle of pro­fes­sional tour­na­ment golf, the PGA TOUR un­doubt­edly at­tracts the great­est golfers on the planet which now in­cludes a cos­mopoli­tan line-up of 88 in­ter­na­tional play­ers from 27 na­tions. In­ter­est­ingly, each mem­ber has un­der­taken unique jour­neys be­gin­ning from dif­fer­ent start­ing points but even­tu­ally reach­ing their ul­ti­mate destination. And many will at­test that Tiger Woods has been another ma­jor in­spi­ra­tion in their bid to shoot for the stars.

For Asia, a grow­ing le­gion of young and ex­cit­ing tal­ents from South Korea, China, Ja­pan, In­dia and Chi­nese Taipei now re­alise their Amer­i­can dream, with big-hit­ting Ki­radech Aphibarn­rat be­ing the lat­est. Ki­radech has gar­nered suf­fi­cient FedExCup points to vir­tu­ally be­come the first Thai golfer to earn a PGA TOUR card for the 2018-19 PGA TOUR sea­son.

The 28-year-old Ki­radech be­gan his golf­ing ad­ven­ture on the Asian Tour where his suc­cess led him to the Euro­pean Tour. From there, he se­cured mul­ti­ple vic­to­ries to gain en­try into the World Golf Cham­pi­onships, and two top-5s in the WGC-Mex­ico Cham­pi­onship and WGC-Dell Tech­nolo­gies Match Play have since paved his way to the PGA TOUR this year.

In the case of Ja­pan’s ris­ing son Hideki Mat­suyama, the 26-year-old sim­ply sky­rock­eted into the big league in 2013 af­ter amass­ing six top-25s in seven starts to earn his card via the non-mem­ber cat­e­gory. His tal­ent was for all to see af­ter he won the Asi­aPa­cific Am­a­teur Cham­pi­onship twice (2010 and 2011) and he has since won five times on the PGA TOUR, in­clud­ing two World Golf Cham­pi­onships tour­na­ments.

Other Asian as­pi­rants have ven­tured on windier routes. One such golfer is South Korea’s Byeong Hun An, known bet­ter as Ben An. He learned to play the game when he was five de­spite both par­ents be­ing Olympic Games medal­lists in ta­ble ten­nis. And as his in­ter­est in golf grew, An was sent to the United States at 15 to at­tend school and un­dergo the golf pro­gramme at the IMG Academy at Braden­ton, Florida.

In two years, not only did he learn to speak and write in English, An sen­sa­tion­ally won the pres­ti­gious U.S. Am­a­teur, be­com­ing the youngest cham­pion in the tour­na­ment his­tory. A col­lege ca­reer at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia-Berkeley en­sued, but the pow­er­ful South Korean cut short his col­lege stint as he knew pro­fes­sional golf was his call­ing. An failed in his first at­tempt at PGA TOUR Qual­i­fy­ing School and landed on the Euro­pean Chal­lenge Tour, send­ing him to the far reaches at des­ti­na­tions such as Kenya,

Azer­bai­jan, Oman and Kaza­khstan.

How­ever, the hard knocks on Europe’s sec­ondary cir­cuit tough­ened him up, and An’s class even­tu­ally shone as he played his way onto the Euro­pean Tour, and then break­ing through with a mas­sive win at the 2015 BMW PGA Cham­pi­onship at Went­worth. In the fol­low­ing year, he pro­duced five top-25s in 14 starts to earn his PGA TOUR card through the non-mem­ber cat­e­gory and the ami­able South Korean had con­tin­ued to knock on the door to the first vic­tory in Amer­ica, com­ing ag­o­nis­ingly close in June when he lost in a play­off to Bryson Decham­beau at the Me­mo­rial Tour­na­ment.

“The PGA TOUR is the ul­ti­mate. I was al­ways pre­pared to move up slowly. I lost my Euro­pean Chal­lenge Tour card in the first year, went back to Q-school and then fin­ished 30th and fourth to earn my Euro­pean Tour card. And now I’m on the PGA TOUR. It’s worked out,” said An.

In con­trast, Zecheng ‘Marty’ Dou’s path be­gan at home, with the PGA TOUR SeriesChina, one of three de­vel­op­ment tours run by the PGA TOUR, play­ing a piv­otal role. As a six-year-old, he learned the game in Van­cou­ver where he spent five years in Canada with his fam­ily as his fa­ther wanted he and his sis­ter to learn English and ex­pe­ri­ence Western liv­ing. Dou started win­ning ju­nior tour­na­ments in­clud­ing the World Ju­nior 13-14 age-group, rep­re­sented China in the Asian Games, dreamed of play­ing along­side Woods and turned pro­fes­sional at a ten­der age of 17 af­ter ac­cept­ing an in­vi­ta­tion to compete in the WGC-HSBC Cham­pi­ons in Shang­hai.

With the PGA TOUR Se­ries-China pros­per­ing, the teen phe­nom swept all be­fore him in 2016, win­ning four times to earn play­ing rights on the Web.com Tour in the U.S. His ca­reer con­tin­ued to trend up­wards when he made his­tory by win­ning the Dig­i­tal Ally Open out­side Kansas City last July, which made him the first Chi­nese to win on the Web.com Tour. He fin­ished 16th on the money list to be­come the first golfer from main­land China to earn a price­less PGA TOUR card.

“It’s like a dream come true as since I was young, I’ve al­ways wanted to be on the PGA TOUR. It’s been 12 years of prac­tice and a lot of hard work. You have to give up a lot of your own things, your hob­bies,” said Dou, who is an avid E-sport gamer and a reg­u­lar user of WeChat to keep in touch with fam­ily and friends in China.

Chi­nese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, into his sec­ond sea­son on the PGA TOUR, also took the de­vel­op­ment tour route. Fol­low­ing a strong am­a­teur ca­reer where he was a four-time All-Amer­i­can at the Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton, he com­peted on the Macken­zie Tour PGA TOUR Canada and quickly won twice in 2015. Af­ter gain­ing ‘pro­mo­tion’ onto the Web.com Tour, the 26-year-old reg­is­tered seven top-10s to fin­ish 11th on the money list to se­cure his PGA TOUR card. He en­joyed three top-10s in his rookie sea­son last year and had seven top-25s to date in 2018.

“I thought I had to spend a few years on Web.Com, but if you look at my pro ca­reer, it took me 15 months to get onto PGA Tour, which I’m happy about. It’s my dream. I al­ways felt I be­long on the PGA TOUR,” said Pan.

From grow­ing up in cities like Taipei and Van­cou­ver and then com­pet­ing in des­ti­na­tions such as Toronto, Mus­cat and Nairobi, the likes of Pan and a grow­ing band of ris­ing Asian stars have shown there are more than just one way to get onto the PGA TOUR.

Chuah Choo Chi­ang is Se­nior Direc­tor, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions of the PGA TOUR and is based in TPC Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia.

Ben An came ag­o­nis­ingly close to his first vic­tory in June when he lost in a play­off to Bryson Decham­beau at theMe­mo­rial Tour­na­ment

Zecheng ‘Marty’ Dou’s path be­gan at home, with the PGA TOUR SeriesChina, one of three de­vel­op­ment tours run by the PGA TOUR

Chi­nese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, into his sec­ond sea­son on the PGA TOUR, also took the de­vel­op­ment tour route

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