As 2015 comes to a close, our in-house team of communications experts, who have traversed the region following every Asian Tour tournament over the last 12 months, write about their favourite moments of the season.
From Anirban Lahiri’s meteoric rise to global stardom to teenager Phachara Khongwatmai’s last-gasp heroics to earn his Asian Tour card for 2016, there were plenty of talking points in what proved to be another memorable year in Asian golf.
Hail our new No. 1
By Chuah Choo Chiang, Director, Communications
Anirban Lahiri was indeed the toast of the Tour in 2015, both for his stellar performances that saw him win two tournaments – the Maybank Malaysian Open and Hero Indian Open – and the way he handled himself through the adversity of a devastating Presidents Cup debut.
The 28-year-old’s rise on the region’s premier Tour has been terrific to watch and write about over the years, from the time he claimed a first victory in 2011 before going on to finish third on the Order of Merit in 2013, second in 2014 and then voila, first in 2015.
His two triumphs in February were wonderful spectacles. Lahiri showed a knack of pulling off great shots, first holing a monster putt at the penultimate hole in Malaysia to edge one shot ahead and then chipping in for par in India after fluffing his previous shot to get into a play-off.
Then, there was his successful campaign at the Web.Com Finals where he secured his place on the global stage by earning his PGA TOUR card. Golf legend Greg Norman has also predicted him as a dark horse in 2016.
And then, who can forget his tied fifth finish at the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where he stayed in the title hunt throughout the final day. The eye-catching finish, which saw him earn the respect of the globe’s top players, came three weeks after a solid performance at The Open Championship at St Andrews.
While the highs came in glorious waves, Lahiri endured a tough debut at the Presidents Cup where he became the first Indian to qualify for the International Team. He was winless in his Fourball and Foursomes matches but had a chance to redeem himself in the Singles against Chris Kirk.
With the match all square playing the 18th hole, Lahiri seemed to hold the upper hand after an exquisite chip left him with a three-foot birdie putt while Kirk was 20 feet past the flag. But the intricacies of match play were then on full display when Kirk rattled home his putt and Lahiri inadvertently missed his putt to lose his match. To make matters worse for Lahiri, the US won the Presidents Cup by one point.
In the aftermath, Lahiri could have easily disappeared from the scene and not face the media. But the way he handled himself and giving credit to Kirk especially was worth more than a point for the Internationals.
He was gracious in defeat, as he was in becoming our new Asian Tour No. 1.
Behold our first-time champions
By Calvin Koh, Senior Manager, Communications
The 2015 Asian Tour season was a season of revelation by all accounts. It not only uncovered how several old warhorses rediscovered their winning touch, but more excitedly, also revealed the real gems on Tour.
One of these fine young talents who sparkled brightly was Thailand’s Danthai Boonma, who enjoyed his maiden breakthrough victory on the region’s premier Tour in the most deserving way in Singapore.
At the inaugural World Classic Championship at Laguna National, the 19-year-old showed what no other could do by intelligently coming up tops at the World Classic Course, dubbed ‘Asia’s toughest test’ because of its treacherous slopes and tricky greens.
For the record, Danthai also emerged as one of only two players to break par after four days of punishing and intense battle with the region’s heavyweights at the full-field Asian Tour event.
Apart from Danthai, there were also Chiragh Kumar (Panasonic Open India), Shaun Norris (Yeangder TPC), Natipong Srithong (Resorts World Manila Masters) and Miguel Tabuena (Philippine Open) who made their maiden entry into the winner’s circle and showed there would always be an exciting mix of young and old talents on the Asian Tour.
These are the names of the future and promising bright sparks who are bound to light up the professional game in Asia for a long time to come.
At the penultimate Thailand Golf Championship, Danthai was in awe and shell shocked when asked to pose beside Major winner Bubba Watson and other marquee names at the pre-event press conference.
He did not expect to be showcased to the world together with the mega-headliners as he felt ‘he was not up to their standards yet’.
Well, he will certainly have to get used to more of such attention if he continues to play true to his immense potential.
While Jeunghun Wang did not secure a maiden victory, he produced yet another eye-catching season, finishing inside the top-10 of the Order of Merit with several notable top-10 finishes.
The young Korean was a surprise captain’s pick for Team Asia as well with captain Jeev Milkha Singh saying that many of Tour rated Wang as one of the finest ball-strikers in the game.
A toast to the oldies
By Doyle De Costa, Manager, Communications
Their golf swings and demeanor on the golf course is unmistakable and their reputation is etched forever in the history books.
Called the ‘veterans’ on the Asian Tour, Singapore’s Mardan Mamat and Thai duo Prayad Marksaeng and Thaworn Wiratchant have continued to impress season after season despite pushing late into their 40s.
A new generation of young stars has taken the world of golf by storm but these golden oldies are simply not prepared to fade into the sunset.
Mardan, 48, started the ball rolling in 2015 when he won the inaugural Bashundhara Bangladesh Open for his fifth Asian Tour title. If you thought his victory was impressive, the Singaporean even entertained the crowd with a dance and a jig at the prize giving ceremony. Talk about talent …
Smooth-swinging Prayad tamed the ‘Beast of Samui’ for the second time in three years when he lifted the prestigious Queen’s Cup on home soil at the holiday isle of Samui. It was his ninth Asian Tour title which he won at the age of 49!
The boyish-looking Prayad was also victorious in Japan and his fine form earned him a captain’s pick for the EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM for the second time in his career. What is the secret to his youthfulness? Having regular dips in a hot spring after his round!
Thaworn celebrated his 400th Asian Tour appearance at the UBS Hong Kong Open this year, a sterling career which consists of an unprecedented 18 Asian Tour victories and two Order of Merit crowns.
He failed to add to his career tally in 2015 but runner-up results at the Panasonic Open India and inaugural Ho Tram Open in Vietnam where he lost in a four-way play-off showed that win number 19 is not to be written off.
All eyes will be on the young guns when the 2016 season rolls in this January, but the battle hardened veterans have shown that they do not intend to go away just yet. As the saying goes, class is permanent.
ADT route to success
By Serene Loh, Senior Executive, Communications
Talk about dazzling hopes and endless possibilities.
While there are many superstars at the forefront of
the game on the Asian Tour, there are also just as many potential stars in the making on the Asian Development Tour (ADT).
Young Thai Phachara Khongwatmai certainly made full use of the ADT platform to leave his name on everybody’s lips following a season to remember.
The talented 16-year-old packs a punch in his game and his exploits show we could welcome yet another mega star from the Kingdom of Thailand.
When he was 14, he won as an amateur to become the youngest player to win a professional tournament in the world.
After joining the play for pay ranks in 2015, Phachara came through the Asian Tour Qualifying School and won on the ADT, setting another record as the youngest winner on the region’s secondary circuit at the age of 15.
He then stole the limelight again by finishing sixth at the prestigious Thailand Golf Championship in December to secure a prized spot at The Open Championship next July.
His brilliant display at the Thailand Golf Championship pushed him up to 64th place on the Asian Tour Order of Merit where he agonizingly missed his Asian Tour card by one rung.
The talented teenager, however, did not give up on his hopes. He had one last throw of the dice at the season ending ADT tournament, the Boonchu Ruangkit Championship which lo and behold, he won the title, beating world number 28 Thongchai Jaidee into second place, to secure his 2016 Asian Tour card by the slimmest of margins!
Apart from Phachara, Casey O’Toole capped an exciting season on the ADT where he was crowned the Order of Merit champion following one victory and nine top-10s. The 25-year-old O’Toole, one of the most consistent player on the ADT, is the second American, after Jonathan Moore in 2011, to win the ADT Order of Merit.