The UBS Hong Kong Open has a history of Asian success – it has been won by an Asian player 16 times in its 46-year history.
Asian Tour players have also started to be successful in events that are co-sanctioned with the European Tour. This year alone, Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee (right) has won the Malaysian Open and compatriot Thaworn Wiratchant has captured the Indonesia Open.
But outside the continent, Asian successes are more rare. Only four Asian players have ever won on the US PGA Tour and only three have ever won a European Tour event on European soil. And while Asians have finished runner-up in a Major on three occasions, the continent is still awaiting its first champion.
It is a record that needs to change if Asian golf is to truly stand on the world stage.
“On their travels, Asian golfers have traditionally struggled to take their home form with them,” agrees Spencer Robinson, publisher of Asian Golf Monthly. “A variety of reasons have been put forward – language, food, weather, course conditions and possibly being overawed by the status of the players they were facing.
“Gradually, though, we’re starting to see a change in psyche. More of the prominent Asian golfers speak English and are accustomed to being on the road. By winning on home soil against top players from Europe and the US, Asians have also overcome the psychological barrier.
“Nevertheless, it’s one thing for an Asian player to win a co-sanctioned European Tour event in Asia, but quite another to do it in Europe. Jyoti Randhawa, Zhang Lianwei and Thongchai Jaidee have all had top 10s in Europe, now’s the time for them to take the next step to show the world that Asians are capable of playing well, and winning, in a variety of continents and conditions. When that happens, the golfing world will take notice.”
Two players certainly making their mark are South Korea’s KJ Choi and Japan’s “Smilin’ Assassin”, Shigeki Maruyama.
Since 2001, each has won three times on the US PGA Tour, ending a barren run for Asia that began in 1987, the year Taiwan’s TC Chen won the Los Angeles Open. Before Chen, Asia’s sole American success had been Japanese legend Isao Aoki’s Hawaiian Open victory in 1983.
“The successes of Choi and Maruyama have done much to raise the profile of golf, not only in their home countries, but across the region,” says Robinson. “They have shown the way for other Asians and proved that succeeding at the highest level is within the grasp of Asian players, provided they show the required measures of hard work, determination, dedication and self-belief. History will judge Choi and Maruyama as the pioneers who paved the way for their fellow Asians.
“For any professional golfer who aspires to reaching the top, the PGA Tour is the place to be. Of the current crop of Asian players, Thongchai Jaidee and Jyoti Randhawa both have what it takes to win their cards in the US – and retain them. Arjun Atwal is already there and doing well, while Kevin Na is also showing signs of promise. Without question, I believe you’ll see the number of Asians on the PGA Tour swell in the near future.”