Kaufman blog: The 2016 Season Review

Thu 29 Dec 2016

Kaufman blog: The 2016 Season Review

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December 29: It’s amazing how the years rattle by. It’s six years now since I was first made to feel welcome on the Asian Tour and from the EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM to the final event in Hong Kong, 2016 provided another exciting year full of great stories.
By Richard Kaufman
Most exciting finish
Like any year, there were some thrills to be watched on the Asian Tour in 2016. But, in a few years from now, I know which event will stick out as the most jaw dropping.
In what had been an emotional week for the Thai players, Pavit Tangkamolprasert was put through it at the Venetian Macao Open thanks to some of the best golf I have ever seen over a seven-hole stretch. Think Ian Poulter at Medinah and that will give you some idea of what kind of zone Anirban Lahiri was in. Pavit played fantastic but the intensity and quality from the Indian that afternoon over the back nine was absorbing. seven straight birdies was enough only to force a play off that ended in an anti-climatic fashion for Lahiri but that didn’t lessen those two hours of genuine world class golf.
Gaganjeet Bhullar of India Gaganjeet Bhullar of India
Most heart-warming story
This is one with a fair few contenders. Every golfer has their own story and any win takes talent, perseverance and sacrifice. Chan Shih-chang had suffered the loss of his mother in a terrible accident early this year before going on to two wonderful wins. Gaganjeet Bhullar had gone from the world’s top 100 to golfing wilderness before bouncing back with two superb victories in the second half of the year.
But how can you not be lifted by the story of Sam Brazel? Here was a guy who had played many years on mini tours in Australia, who suffered personal tragedy, followed by a serious health issue. When he turned up at Asian Tour Q School four years ago at the age of 33, it was his last throw of the dice to get on a major golfing tour. All that hard work climbing the golfing ladder came to a head on a Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong. And he held off the challenge of one of Europe’s Ryder Cup stars to win a European Tour co-sanctioned event, sealing his first pro title with only the second birdie of the day at tough 18th.
Easiest win
From a commentary perspective and I’m sure as a golf fan, you want to see a dramatic and close encounter where the winner is put through all the emotions of trying to cross the line. Sometimes, it ends up being a cruise for the champion. That it should be from a first time winner made Poom Saksansin’s win even more praiseworthy. Leading going into the final day, no one could get near the Thai as he played near blemish free golf to win the BNI Indonesian Masters presented by Zurich by five shots.
Player of the Year
A four-way contest really. SSP stands for “some serious play” given the way Chawrasia won the Hero Indian Open and Resorts World Manila Masters. Marcus Fraser was in the frame for his excellent win in Malaysia and his fantastic display at the Olympics. Jeunghun Wang went from Asian Tour wannabee to European Tour Rookie of the year. A remarkable achievement. But Scott Hend edges it for me. I am sure there are no complaints in the Scott household at winning twice. But the Australian had great opportunities to also win at places like Wentworth and Korea and remember he lost in a play-off in Switzerland. His two victories came in Thailand. Some see how far Scott hits it and as a result, the focus can be on driving prowess. But you don’t play at the level the Australia has, over the last few years in particular, without an all round game of the highest level. Two victories and finishing as the Asian Tour’s number one was the least he deserved.
Phachara Khongwatmai of Thailand Phachara Khongwatmai of Thailand
Rising Star
The victories from rookies means there obvious contenders. The aforementioned Chan Shih-chang with his polka dotted shirt was a star of 2016. The aforementioned Jeunghun Wang’s back to back wins on the European Tour proof of what we thought could be the case. That here is a player that is a genuine quality that could be in the world’s top 50 for a long time to come. But he first came to the fore a couple of years ago now on an Asian Tour stage. So, my rising star goes to someone who didn’t win. Phachara Khongwatmai has only just turned 18. He strikes it pure and has an excellent short game. From his Open debut at Troon to the run of near misses in terms of wins in September and October, here is a player you have to think, given the right attitude, has the tools to go a long way in the game. And given my brief encounters with the young man, he looks like he has a good head on those young shoulders too.
Biggest let-down
I don’t have to sugar-coat things. Let’s be honest, it was always going to be hard for the EurAsia Cup to live up that incredible comeback of 2014. But for some reason, an Asian fightback never looked on the cards this time round. Danny Willett, Lee Westwood, Andy Sullivan and Chris Wood among the Euros who played top class golf and the scoreline was a fair reflection of what unfolded. Let’s hope for a closer affair in 2018.
Best recovery from a heartache
Honourable mention for SSP Chawrasia who had suffered four runner-up finishes at the Indian Open before finally bagging his national title at Delhi Golf Club in March.
Soomin Lee of Korea Soomin Lee of Korea
But the winner has to be Soomin Lee. So strong for 69 holes, he crumbled at Royal Selangor over the closing stages, left in tears as Marcus Fraser captured the Maybank Championship Malaysia. Fast forward less than two months and it looked as if another big title was about to slip through his fingers again, this time a European Tour event in China. But a stroke of luck with a weather break helped his cause. And when he came back Monday morning, he finished in style. The perfect riposte to the heartache in Kuala Lumpur.
Oldest Winner
Ever! Mukesh Kumar, what a star! 51 years old for an Asian Tour breakthrough. But an unblievable 124th pro victory. If he is as true as his word after winning the Panasonic Open India, the next win will be the most defining as he says he will quit!
Predictions
12 months ago, I was predicting the re-emergence of Gaganjeet Bhullar. I am throwing that in now to prove I can sometimes get it right! Although I did say he would win the Order of Merit too I think, so not completely right. I will go for this…Miguel Tabuena to win the rankings and Anirban Lahiri to get his PGA Tour breakthrough.
Whatever happens in 2017, I am sure it will be more of the same in terms of Asian success around the world. And I am looking forward to watching it all unravel.
Ends.