By Chuah Choo Chiang
When the DP World Tour’s Asian Swing kicks off in Singapore this week before journeying to Thailand and India, it will serve as a massive boon to the region’s aspiring golfers with dreams of chasing history and legacy.
In the past, Asian greats including Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee, Zhang Lian-wei of China and India’s Arjun Atwal had notched historic wins for their respective nations in DP World Tour-sanctioned tournaments across Asia, and reaped immediate rewards by earning playing rights in what was formerly known as the European Tour.
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The stakes will be so much higher now as a total of 10 PGA Tour cards will be up for grab on the DP World Tour in 2023 for the crème de la crème to gain direct entry to the pinnacle of the men’s professional game.
“The 10 PGA Tour cards is good,” said Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who spent five years on the PGA Tour before losing his status last season. “This creates opportunities for a new generation of golfers to play on a higher tour. As for me, I’m trying to play decent golf again on the DP World Tour, maybe win a couple and then get back onto the PGA Tour,” added the 33-year-old, whose four DP World Tour wins include two in Asia.
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The strengthening of a Strategic Alliance between the DP World Tour and PGA Tour, which was initially formed in 2020, has created clear career pathways for the likes of China’s Wu Ashun and Li Haotong, India’s Shubhankar Sharma, Gavin Green of Malaysia, Japan’s Masahiro Kawamura and Jeunghun Wang of Korea, all regulars on the DP World Tour, to shoot for their American dreams. Even the likes of Singapore’s 23-year-old amateur Ryan Ang, who tees up in this week’s US$2 million Singapore Classic at Laguna National Golf Club, may fancy a shot at the big league.
After all, it only takes one week in pro golf for a player’s life to be transformed.
“I think it is a great opportunity for players,” said India’s 26-year-old Sharma, who holds two victories on the DP World Tour and finished 29th in the Race to Dubai ranking last season. “Getting onto the PGA Tour has been the dream for most players. It is the biggest Tour in the world, so this alliance between the DP World Tour and PGA Tour could be a huge game changer.”
China already has Marty Dou and Carl Yuan playing their trade full-time on the PGA Tour after graduating from the Korn Ferry Tour in the U.S., and countrymen Li Haotong and Wu Ashun are hoping to join them via the DP World Tour route. In 2018, Li finished ninth in the Race to Dubai ranking and holds three career wins on the DP World Tour.
“This year, a lot of players will target for that, including me,” said the 37-year-old Wu, who is competing in Singapore this week alongside Li. “I have a chance. I have been doing well and I trained well in the off-season,” added the four-time DP World Tour winner as he seeks to emulate countrymen Zhang and Liang Wen-chong – who both won in Singapore previously.
With other Strategic Alliances forged recently between the DP World Tour/PGA Tour and Japan Golf Tour, Korean PGA Tour, Professional Golf Tour of India (PGTI) and PGA of Australia, players from the various domestic circuits will now enjoy various pathways onto the DP World Tour, and subsequently have a legitimate chance to get onto the PGA Tour so long as they can perform at the highest level.
Kiradech, who was once ranked as high as 29th in the world, plans to maintain Bangkok as his home base as he seeks to regain his best form. During his five-year stint in the U.S., the amiable Thai had a tough time adjusting to life away being from his family. “Staying at home now, it’s amazing. I’ve got family around me all the time … it’s our culture, we stick together, eating, spending time together and staying in the same area. I can also spend more time with my cars,” said Kiradech, a well-known lover of fast cars.
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With the Thailand Classic being played at Amata Spring Country Club from Feb 16 to 19, the burly Thai, who was once dubbed Asia’s John Daly for his grip it-and-rip it style of play, hopes to get back onto the winning trail at his home course. “I’m looking forward to playing in my own country as there will be a lot of support from fans and family members,” he said.
Sharma hopes to see more Indian golfers joining him on the DP World Tour after compatriot Manu Gandas become the first PGTI player to earn a tour card through the new alliance, which benefits include the launch of two new Challenge Tour events in India along with the staging of the Hero Indian Open later this month. “The DP World Tour’s alliance with the Indian (PGTI) Tour for the winner of the Order of Merit could be a game changer. There will also be spots in Qualifying School. This means over the next two to three years, we will have more Indians with a card on the DP World Tour,” said Sharma.
Similarly for Malaysia’s Gavin Green, the prospects of fighting for a PGA Tour card via the DP World Tour is enticing, especially with a great opportunity to shine in the Asian Swing events. After the three legs, the DP World Tour will return to the Far East once more in late April with new tournaments being played in Japan and Korea.
“It’s a great motivation and definitely something to play for. Being in Asia, it’s like going back to my roots. Being this close to home, I feel comfortable. I’m still working on my game and some things have yet to click, but I’m working hard for these next three events. It’ll be nice give myself a chance.”
Note: The writer is senior director, marketing and communications – APAC for the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur.