Photo - iphonasia.com
KOREAN GOLF STOCK RISES WITH ASIAN TOUR
Sentosa: From the days of Kang Wook-soon who dominated the fairways in Asia during the 1990s to the emergence of favourite sons K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang and now the supremely talented Noh Seung-yul and Bae Sang-moon, Korea’s golf stock has risen with as much impact as with the growth of the Asian Tour.
Kang’s nickname is “Hahoetal” which means friendly face but he terrorised rivals with his knack of winning and took his place in Asian golf history by becoming the first man to win two Order of Merit crowns in Asia and seven career titles.
Through the staging of Asian Tour-sanctioned tournaments in Korea and across the region, stretching from India and all the way through to China, the career paths of Korean players have skyrocketed with such force that many of its stars have attributed the importance of the Asian Tour for their rapid rise.
Yang’s historic triumph at the PGA Championship last Augusta where he became the first Asian male golfer to win a Major signalled the shift in power in world golf. On Sunday, Yang and Choi finished top eight at the Masters Tournament.
“I cut my teeth on the Asian Tour all those years ago. I wasn’t a prominent player back then and now, I’m an Honorary Member,” said Yang, who will return home for the Ballantine’s Championship which is sanctioned by the Asian, European and Korean PGA Tours.
“The Asian Tour opened the door to international competitions for me. I started my playing career on the Korean Tour but I found out through the Asian Tour that there was a high level of competition. There were so much more possibilities for me and I practiced and persevered and I was diligent enough to succeed.”
Yang spent five seasons in Asia before eventually leaving his home base in the Land of Morning Calm, as Korea is known as, to the Land of Opportunity in the United States. His passage was easy as he simply followed the trail set by his close friend, Choi.
Both Choi and Yang were afforded Honorary Memberships with the Asian Tour and Choi firmly believes that competing at different courses around the region has helped shape the careers of Korean stars.
“Playing all over Asia, it helps a player develops. You play on different courses, different grasses and experience different kinds of weather conditions. This allows us to build up our games and focus on tournament play,” said Choi.
“The experience enables players to manage their games and learn about themselves like how many tournaments to play before taking a break,” added the seven-time US PGA Tour winner.
From between 2004 till 2009, the Asian Tour has sanctioned 15 tournaments in Korea worth a total of US$13.8 million, with pride of place going to the Ballantine’s Championship, inaugurated in 2008 and carrying a lucrative US$2.9 million in total prize money.
These playing opportunities have led to the emergence of an exciting breed of young Korean stars including the likes of recent Maybank Malaysian Open champion Noh, Bae, who is a three-time winner on the Asian Tour, and Kim Kyung-tae.
The 18-year-old Noh, who won his maiden title at the 2008 Midea China Classic, said: “I have enjoyed my experience on the Asian Tour. There are so many good players competing on the Asian Tour and the best thing is that a lot of the players are always willing to share their knowledge and experience with younger players like myself.
“Jeev Milkha Singh and K.J. Choi are amongst those who have offered advice in the past and I truly appreciate their gesture. It gives me confidence. The thing about competing on the Asian Tour is that I have had the opportunity to play against really good players. I believe I have become a better player now than I was two years ago when I first joined the Asian Tour.”
The teenage prodigy stayed true to his word by defeating his idol Choi at the Malaysian Open for his second Asian Tour win which has pushed him up to second place on the Order of Merit. That win not only catapulted Noh to immediate fame but also cemented his status as the rising star on the Asian Tour.
As with Ballantine’s tagline “Leave an Impression”, the Asian Tour has certainly left an indelible mark in the professional golf landscape in Korea.