Asia Rising

Wed 13 Jun 2018

Asia Rising


Sentosa, Singapore, June 14: It was a show of intent from a lineup of immensely-talented individuals. Team Asia was defeated by their European counterparts at the EurAsia Cup, but the Arjun Atwal-led squad certainly did not go down fighting. In fact, Team Asia even led the proceedings going into the singles matches before conceding their EurAsia Cup challenge, 10-14.

Despite the loss, there was an upbeat and palpable sense of optimism at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club, where the biennial event was held. Poom Saksansin impressed by beating veteran Paul Casey. He was also part of the team that demolished Henrik Stenson and Alexander Levy 5&4 in the opening Fourballs. 18-year-old Phachara Khongwatmai displayed maturity beyond his years by scoring two points for Team Asia.

If anything, the Asian Tour has so far mirrored the dogged performance put up by Poom, Phachara and the rest of Team Asia.

The Asian Tour has also come out swinging by setting for itself a lofty target of at least 32 tournaments in 2018. With the season reaching the halfway mark and the many tournaments added to the growing schedule, the Asian Tour is well and truly on its way to meeting its goal.

2018 has also welcomed a diverse and talented group of winners. Most certainly, the season is shaping up to be unpredictable and utterly fascinating. 

A Masterful Performance

The 2018 Asian Tour season opened spectacularly in the Lion City, at the US$1,000,000 SMBC Singapore Open. The prestigious tournament always has the knack of producing famous winners and this year was no exception. 2017 Masters Tournament champion, Sergio Garcia, romped to a dominant five-shot victory at the weather-disrupted tournament in Sentosa Golf Club.

The event was also memorable for Thai duo Jazz Janewattanaond and Danthai Boonma, who punched their tickets to The Open Championship this year after finishing in tied-fourth. The Singapore Open is part of The Open Qualifying Series, where four players who finish inside the top-12 and ties, who are not already exempt, will earn places in the field at Carnoustie from July 19 to 22, 2018. 

Coming full circle

The Tour travelled north for the US$750,000 LeoPalace21 Myanmar Open, where Paul Peterson of the United States masterfully orchestrated his first victory on the Asian Tour. He started the final round two shots off the lead and ended the day two shots ahead after posting a five-under-par 66 at the Pun Hlaing Golf Club. Peterson is thrilled to get a victory on the Tour that gave him a headstart in his professional career.

Said Peterson: “This victory is very special as the Asian Tour is where I started and to be able to get a win here really means a lot. I had to make that transition from Asia to Europe, and I was trying to play in as many events as I could. So, it just feels right that I’m finally able to have a win under my belt out here in Myanmar.”

Last man standing

The ever-impressive Kiradech Aphibarnrat added another feather to his cap after winning the A$1,750,000 (approx. US$1,250,000) ISPS HANDA World Super 6 Perth at the Karrinyup Golf and Country Club. The 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit winner was the last man to enter the tournament, and the last man standing. Kiradech flew into Australia the evening before the start of the event and did not get to play a practice round. He barely made the knockout matchplay round after surviving a tense, nine-man playoff on Saturday before beating Australian James Nitties to win the title on Sunday. It was Kiradech’s third victory on the Asian Tour.

“There were many times when I felt that I would be eliminated from the tournament. Winning any event is never easy. I pushed myself and I’m glad that things turned out the way it did,” said the champion, who recently accepted a PGA Tour Special Temporary Membership. 

Compatriot Prom Meesawat earned a bonus prize of A$25,000 (approximately US$18,900) after finishing in first place after the stroke play rounds.

Greatness Personified

Shubhankar Sharma displayed one of the most scintillating final-round performances on the Asian Tour at the US$3,000,000 Maybank Championship. While many faltered, the 21-year-old carded an impressive 10-under-par 62 in windy conditions at the Saujana Golf and Country Club in Malaysia to win the tournament by two shots.

The victory was particularly impressive as Sharma was struggling in the opening two rounds. He was in 48th place going into the weekend, but he bounced back with a 66 in round three to put him within four shots of the lead before his heroics on Sunday. It was his second win on the Asian Tour.

Said Sharma: “The last two months have changed my life. I’ve been a member on the Asian Tour for a while and I will continue to be a member on the Asian Tour. I’ve always dreamt of winning and now I’m a two-time winner on the Asian Tour and European Tour.”

The victory was the start of a fantastic period for Sharma. He went on to play in the 2018 WGC-Mexico Championship, where he finished tied-ninth. His performance earned him an invitation to the Masters Tournament. He will also feature in the U.S. Open, the Open Championship and stands an excellent chance of qualifying for the PGA Championship. 

Amazing Overtaking

Like Sharma, Daniel Nisbet of Australia also played the round of his life at the ISPS HANDA New Zealand. He won the NZ$1,200,000 (approximately US$860,000) tournament after overcoming a massive, six-hole deficit by carded a resplendent nine-under-par 62 in the final round. 

Overnight leader Terry Pilkadaris of Australia enjoyed a five-shot lead going into Sunday, but he was not able to keep his place on top of the leaderboard as his putting touch eluded him on the day that matters most at Millbrook Resort. He only had one birdie during the round and signed for a 71 to settle for second place, two shots behind Nisbet.

A winning focus

Matt Wallace of England overcame the challenging course set up and the vociferous home crowd to win his first Asian Tour title at the US$1.75 million Hero Indian Open. He was in the final group with home course favourite, Shubhankar Sharma, who had a sizeable gallery following him. Wallace kept his mind on his game and carded a four-under-par 68 that got him into a playoff with compatriot and another crowd favourite, Andrew Johnston.

Wallace’s long and accurate drive gave him a significant advantage at the play-off hole, the 624-yard par-five 18th. He hit the green in two shots and made a birdie. Even with the majority of the crowd behind him, the effervescent Johnson could only muster a par and with that conceded the title to Wallace.

“This is one of the hardest golf course that I’ve played. I’ll learn from it and I’m looking forward to playing in similar conditions next time. This week has taught me a lot. Hopefully, it can be the start of a few things coming up,” said Wallace.

Iron will

The last time Rahil Gangjee won a title on the Asian Tour, Facebook was launched. Indeed, it has been a long time since the affable Indian was victorious on Asia’s premier circuit. Gangjee ending a 14-year barren spell on the Asian Tour by winning the Panasonic Open Golf Championship. He closed with a three-under-par 68 for a one-shot victory over Korea’s Hyungsung Kim and Junggon Hwang.

“It has been a very hard 14 years and the thing that surprises even myself is my will to keep going. Everyone will play their part in helping you out, the caddie, the mother, the father, the wife, friends. But more than anything else, you have to want it,” said Gangjee.

The JP¥150,000,000 (approximately US$1,370,000) tournament also saw the crowning of the 2017/18 Panasonic Swing champion, Shiv Kapur. The Indian was a model of consistency, having made the cut in all five events on the Panasonic Swing and finishing in the top-20 in four of them. Kapur won a bonus prize of US$70,000 and an exemption into an event on the European Tour this year.

Swede Victory

Alexander Björk made a breakthrough in his professional career by winning his first Asian Tour and European Tour title at the CN¥20,000,000 (approximately US$3,178,000) Volvo China Open. He carded a final-round seven-under-par 65 at the Topwin Golf and Country Club to win by one shot and with that, became the first golfer from Sweden to win China’s national open.

The Volvo China Open is the second tournament on Asia's premier circuit after the signing of the Strategic Partnership between the China Golf Association and the Asian Tour in March 2017.    

Play-off Perfection

Sanghyun Park won the 37th GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship, maintaining Korea’s iron grip on the illustrious tournament. He did not have it easy though, as he had to beat compatriots Yikeun Chang, Junggon Hwang and India’s Gaganjeet Bhullar in a play-off before lifting the coveted trophy.

Bhullar was the first player to bow out at the first extra hole. Hwang was next to fall out after he carded a bogey while Park and Chang birdied. At the third extra hole, Park had one hand on the trophy as Chang was left with an uphill task to sink a 15-foor par putt, which he missed. Park made no mistake of his from inside 10 feet at the Namseoul Country Club.

Developing into a champion

In professional golf, it is always about seizing opportunities and Sweden’s Malcolm Kokocinski did just that. The Asian Development Tour (ADT) regular, who had limited playing chances on the Asian Tour, qualified for a spot on the AB Bank Bangladesh Open and ended up winning the US$300,000 tournament.

Kokocinski closed with a six-under-par 65 to win by three shots for his first Asian Tour title, as well as exemption until the end of 2019.

Said Kokocinski: “I went back to the Qualifying School earlier this year but didn’t make the grade so I went to play on the ADT. I have had some good results on the ADT so I decided to stay in Asia and see what the year has to offer. My experiences from playing on the ADT has helped a lot. I’m glad I pull in off this time.”

Sharp Improvement

Hard work pays, evident by John Catlin’s success on the Asian Tour. Since missing the cut in Manila in 2016, the American put in extra effort on every aspect of his game. For that, he was rewarded with a third-place finish on the ADT Order of Merit in 2017 and a win at the US$300,000 Asia-Pacific Classic this year.

Catlin had a nervous start to his final round, as he dropped two shots in his front nine. He bounced back with three birdies before signing for a three-under-par 69 to win the tournament by two shots.

Said Catlin: “This victory validates all the hard work that I've put in since missing the cut in Manila in 2016. Winning on the ADT is nice, but the main Tour is a step up and as we all know, this is the main Tour on the continent. So, to be able to get into the winners' category on the Asian Tour is huge.”

Happy Father’s Day

Thailand’s Panuphol Pittayarat won the US$300,000 Thailand Open after overcoming a nervy end to his tournament. He dropped two shots in his final six holes but managed to hold on to his lead at the end of the round.

The victory was a special one for the Thai hotshot, as he was playing on his home course and with his dad watching in the gallery. It was Panuphol’s second victory on the Asian Tour.

“It’s amazing. I can’t put it into words. It means a lot to win the title in front of my dad. He’s been with me ever since I picked up the game when I was eight. He’s been my best coach and my everything. I don’t know how to feel walking up to the 18th green, but I am really very happy. I always want him to see me win and I have done it now,” said Panuphol of his father.