Asian players' new confidence
|On a first morning of the WGC-HSBC Champions when South Africa's Hennie Otto and Korea's Ik-jae Jang were soon four under par apiece, Mike Kerr, the CEO of the Asian Tour, was feeling good about things. More than ever before, he has the feeling that the latest generation of Asian players are at home on the bigger stage.|
Where once the Asian contingent felt like underdogs, they are now talking like winners. Take what India's Gaganjeet Bhullar, who embarked on his first round with a couple of easy pars, had to say in his eve-of-tournament press conference.
"At this time," began the 24-year-old, "I'm really high on confidence and this could be anyone's week. Golf is no long being played only in America and Europe. "It's a global sport and guys from all over the world are winning all over the world." Bhullar, for the record, has captured two of his last six events and is currently lying fifth on the Asian Tour's Order of Merit. YE Yang, of course, is a previous winner of this event while, looking back at this year's European Tour, Thongchai Jaidee won the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor before Jeev Milkha Singh annexed the Scottish Open title at Castle Stuart.
"All our players are excited about the potential and the future of golf in Asia," said Kerr. "At the moment, they still want to graduate to the wealthier American and European tours but all that could change over the next 15-20 years."
Wisely, Kerr treasures the glorious multi-national mix in his organisation. Not just because of how useful it is in the commercial sense, but because of the degree to which it adds to the Tour's rich tapestry.
He gives the perfect illustration of the latter... There is an Indian professional by name of Sujjan Singh who wears in a turban. Kerr has begged him never to be tempted to switch to a US style peak cap. He wants him to be known all over the world as the golfer who plays in a turban.
The junior game is thriving all over Asia, with the HSBC's programme a case in point. Those Chinese youngsters who won the chance to play alongside the professionals at the short 17th in Wednesday's pro-am certainly made their presence felt. Justin Rose was speaking in glowing terms of Sui Xiang, the 12-year-old who had finished nine under par over three rounds of the HSBC Junior Final.
Rose was wide-eyed when the child hit to within a yard of the hole at what was for her a 180 yard par three. He let her hole out for her birdie before he tackled the monster putt he needed for the half.
At the Ryder Cup, Rose had received nothing but applause when he holed those mammoth putts he needed to defeat Phil Mickelson on the last afternoon. However, when he canned his 45-footer to match this slip of a Chinese girl's proud two, it did not go down quite so well.
Though Rose confessed, a little sheepishly, that he had been hell-bent on making it, he cheerfully conceded that it had been "a mean thing to do".
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