"Master Plans" - Golf World - November 1, 2010 - By Dan Washburn


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Short on elite players but (very) long on perks, the fledgling Asian Amateur is a bold experiment by two of the game’s most powerful entities hoping to stimulate interest in golf’s next frontier

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"Master Plans" - Golf World - November 1, 2010 - By Dan Washburn

  1. 1. Profile Master photographs by streeter Lecka/getty ImagesIntentional WalkAfter confidently striding to a five-shot Asian Amateur win,Matsuyama was T-3 in the ensuing Japan Open.24 November 1, 2010 GolfWorld.com
  2. 2. Short on elite players but (very) long on perks, the fledgling Asian Amateur is a bold experiment by two of the game’s most powerful entities hoping to stimulate interest in golf’s next frontier By Dan Washburn K asumigaseki CC may have waived its longstand- ing jackets-only policy for October’s Asian Amateur Championship, but jackets—green ones, to be exact— remained in vogue at the suburban Tokyo club’s historic West Course all week. Men wearing golf’s most iconic blazer could be found around every corner. So could Southern accents. If not for the chopsticks and all of the bowing, it might as well have been the clubhouse at Augusta National. But it wasn’t. It was some 7,000 miles to the west. And that Augusta National would make a point to fly its chairman and 12 members (and their 13 green jackets that almost never make it beyond Magnolia Lane) all the way to Japan for a fledgling amateur tournament shows just how serious the club is about the event it launched last year with the R&A and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation. “It’s great to see the green jackets—it really shows how important this event is,” said Singapore’s Lam Zhiqun, 21, who led this year’s tournament after two rounds before falling to 13th, 16 shots back of Japanese teenager Hideki Matsuyama, who dominated the weekend and rolled to a five-stroke victory at 15 under. “In America you have the U.S. Amateur. In Europe you have the British Amateur. In Asia and the Pacific it is now the Asian Amateur.” >>Plans
  3. 3. That’s the idea, at least. The Asian Amateur winner may receive an auto- matic entry into the Masters, but the event still has some Major Effort distance to go before it is on par with its counterparts in the Tour-grade signage West in terms of prestige or talent—only six of the tourna- (left), heavy hitters Airlines, but the bulk of the ment’s 118 competitors could be found in the World Ama- (center, from left: tab was picked up by Augusta Dawson, Payne and teur Golf Ranking’s top 100. There is no denying the event APGC chief Tommy National and the R&A. No one has been fast-tracked for success, however, thanks in large Lee) and splendid would put a specific dollar fig- part to the deep pockets of its powerful benefactors. spoils (winner Mat- ure on the tournament’s bud- suyama and runner-up In these early years what the Asian Amateur lacks in MacManus) gave the get, but an R&A spokesman buzz, it makes up for in budget. The tournament in Ja- event a big-time vibe. said, “To anyone who attends pan had the look and feel of a top-level professional event, the event it is apparent it’s a which makes sense when you consider it was overseen by significant amount.” the same people who annually run the British Open and The obvious question is: Why? Why would the organi- the Masters. The R&A flew in a 12-person crew—compa- zations behind two of golf’s most revered major tourna- rable to what it would have on hand at the British Ama- ments invest so much time and money into launching an teur or Walker Cup. Augusta National, in addition to its amateur event in a part of the world so far removed from blazer-clad members, sent over a dozen Masters staffers, Augusta or St. Andrews? What do they stand to gain? as well. The Asian Amateur was televised in more than Augusta National chairman Billy Payne and R&A chief 150 countries—no other amateur event comes close— executive Peter Dawson, both in attendance in Japan, with live coverage and play-by-play by Bill Macatee on the told Golf World their motivations were philanthropic and weekend. ESPN2 aired the event in the United States. not tied to any potential benefits related to raising their “It is better than any tournament I have ever played in,” brands’ respective profiles in Asia, such as regional tele- said China’s Ren Han, a senior at Indiana, who contended vision rights or sponsorships from Asian companies. “We in the inaugural Asian Amateur held last year at Mission have not even thought for one second about how to mea- Hills in his hometown of Shenzhen, in China’s Guangdong sure any monetary return, nor frankly do we care,” said province. Han then gestured toward one of several large Payne, adding that Augusta National’s involvement in digital leader boards that, along with thousands of ornate the Asian Amateur will extend “way beyond” his term as Japanese red and black pines, lined Kasumigaseki’s im- chairman. He told a Japanese CNN crew that creating a maculate fairways. “I mean, look at this,” he said. “I have premier amateur event for the Asian region was “just the played in the Volvo China Open, a European Tour event, right thing to do.” but this feels like a much bigger deal to me.” Payne and Dawson’s stated goal behind the Asian Ama- Han, as with every tournament participant, had his teur is one shared by many whose livelihoods depend on travel expenses—flights, hotels, even meals—covered by the struggling global golf industry: grow the game. And the Asian Amateur organizers. Those who missed the cut if they are serious about growing golf, Dawson said, Asia were treated to a complimentary trip to the Tokyo Dis- is the place they need to be. At the tournament’s opening neySea resort Saturday and a visit to an outlet mall Sun- press conference Dawson proclaimed “the game is moving day. Players also raved about the free gear they received, east” and “the balance of the game of golf is going to swing including FootJoy Icon shoes and boxes of Titleist Pro permanently.” He later told Golf World, “There is not 20 V1s. “Clearly they look after you pretty incredibly,” said percent growth in the game of golf [to be had] in the U.S. Australia’s Tarquin MacManus, a senior at Arizona who or U.K., in my humble opinion. Out here there is.” finished five strokes behind Matsuyama in second place. Augusta National and the R&A are intent on staying “I don’t think I have ever played in an event where every ahead of the curve—and maybe even help bend it a bit. The need is catered to to this extent.” thinking is that the creation of an elite regional amateur This year’s tournament was sponsored by Zurich Fi- tournament will help spur grassroots growth through- nancial, Samsung, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Japan out Asia. The introduction of Olympic golf, Dawson said,26 November 1, 2010 GolfWorld.com
  4. 4. It is young standouts such as Matsuyama who the Asian Amateur likely had in mind when it came up withshould help accelerate this development. Some may argue its tagline for the event: “Creating Heroes.” But the phrasewhether the Masters invite that goes to the winner, and also fits for golfers representing more far-flung locations.the British Open International Final Qualifying place- Twenty-seven nations were represented in the field thisments that go to both the winner and runner-up, are de- year, many of them not commonly seen on golf leaderserved, but it is what was needed to give the tournament boards: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, Papua Newimmediate significance. And all the money thrown at the Guinea, Samoa, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, etc.Asian Amateur, organizers believe, was necessary to gen- Two golfers came from the Cook Islands, populationerate interest. “This event doesn’t have the longevity that 11,870. Guam sent a five-man squad with an average agethe [U.S. and British Amateurs] have in terms of history, of 39. There was a father-son team playing for Pakistan.so we have to invest to establish it, and that’s what is hap- And then there was Ziwang Gurung, the son of a plumb-pening,” Dawson said. er and a dishwasher, who at 18 is already the best golfer Some things will take time, however. A quick scan of the in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which he guessedAsian Amateur’s leader board shows a bottom-heavy field. had a total of fewer than 130 golfers. Thimphu, the capi-The cut-line for the 72-hole stroke-play tournament was tal city, has three courses—“one good one, one militarynine over, and 20 golfers stood at 20 over or worse at the course, and one in the Indian embassy”—and each hasend of 36 holes. Then there was poor Tumenjargal Shag- nine holes, just like the two courses located outside thedar, a 50-year-old from Mongolia who took up golf seven capital (except for the one that has only six). The “goodyears ago. He carded back-to-back 99s. one,” where Gurung started playing in an after-school “The field is strong, but there’s just less people up top,” program when he was 10, has no driving range and all ofsaid Korea’s Eric Chun, a junior at Northwestern, who fin- the greens are tiny and flat. “Maybe we have one greenished runner-up in the 2009 Asian Amateur and went on that slopes,” he said.to qualify for the 2010 British Open at St. Andrews by sink- In 2008 Gurung boarded a plane (for the first time)ing a six-foot birdie putt on the final hole of IFQ in Kuala and left Bhutan (also the first time) to compete in a FaldoLumpur, Malaysia. Chun was less successful this year, go- Series junior event in Vietnam. He finished second. Theing 73-73-76-69 for a share of 24th in Japan. “If I played like following year he learned of a new tournament calledthis, I probably would have missed the cut at the Western the Asian Amateur, where the winner gets to play in theAm or the U.S. Am,” he said. “Here, there are still the good Masters.players—to win you will still have to play well—but once “I was really very excited,” Gurung said. “I thought thisyou go off the top 20, there’s a falloff.” could be the first step for me if I want to become a pro. Be- In his win last month at Kasumigaseki, Matsuyama not cause if I do well in the Asian Amateur tournament, thereonly played well, he truly was masterful. The 18-year-old is a very good chance for me. I’d never get such an experi-freshman at Tohuko Fukushi University in northeastern ence in Bhutan.”Japan posted four rounds in the 60s, including a six-under Gurung shot 80-76 in Japan and failed to make the cut,65 in heavy rain Saturday that tied a course record held but he saw improvement over his 2009 performance andby Indian pro Jeev Milkha Singh. The following weekend believes the experience he gained was invaluable. Plus, heMatsuyama showed his Asian Amateur win was no fluke really enjoyed the driving range. “We can hit as many ballsby finishing T-3 against the pros at the Japan Open. as we like!” he exclaimed. GW GolfWorld.com November 1, 2010 27