The Rise of Golf in Asia
After South Korea’s Jeunghun Wang prevailed at last week’s Qatar Masters, and with the Taiwanese rookie C.T. Pan managing a T-2 at the Farmers Insurance Open, the continued rise to prominence of Asian golfers on the world stage is a real hot topic in the game.
For a continent spanning around one third of the world’s land area, Asia is, at present, rather more diminutive in golfing terms. While participation numbers would suggest that golf has hit a bit of a flat spot in both America and parts of Europe, the East provides a real opportunity for overall growth in the game.
The talent pool seems to be deepening, and it is only a matter of time before we see Asian golfers regularly challenging for the most coveted prizes in golf.
By way of comparison, let’s have a look at the women’s game. Seven of the current top ten in the Ladies Rolex Rankings are of Asian descent, with many of them – though not all – South Korean. In fact, given that world number one Lydia Ko was herself born in Seoul, we could argue for eight.
Furthermore, even if we discount the ANA Championship and Evian Championship captured by Ko, Asian golfers have managed to win 32 ladies major championships since Hisako Higuchi took the Women’s PGA Championship in 1977.
In contrast, South Korean Y.E. Yang is the only Asian major winning golfer in the history of the men’s game, having won the 2009 PGA Championship at Hazeltine National. Remember ‘that’ final round chip? Here’s a memory jog:
Predictions have been made in the intervening seven years about which up-and-coming Asian star has the ability to break out of the group of undoubtedly talented golfers and join Yang at the top table of the men’s game. The landscape in 2017 suggests we may be as close to that prospect as ever before.
So, who should we be keeping an eye on?
Pretty obvious this one - Hideki has the game to win any of the four majors in 2017. The current world number five has multiple wins on the PGA Tour and has been placed in the top ten of each of the four major championships.
Here's a memorable Hideki gem from the 2015 Waste Management Open:
With the Japanese firmly in the mix for a Green Jacket at Augusta in April, we might not have to wait too long for the next Asian major-winner.
Three wins on the European Tour in the last nine months have brought Wang to the attention of golf fans everywhere. At 21 years of age, he has time on his side to reach the pinnacle of the men’s game. That, and a hell of a lot of talent.
Just look at how he read this tricky birdie putt:
His first shot at a major championship will come in April at The Masters. Not since Keegan Bradley won the 2011 PGA Championship has there been a debutant major winner. It would be a tall order, but not an impossibility.
Byeong Hun An
Until Wang’s win in Doha last week, Byeong Hun An was regularly the top-ranked South Korean – and a one-time top ranked Asian golfer – in the Official World Golf Rankings. The 2015 BMW Championship winner has bags of talent, though he is yet to threaten in any of his 11 major appearances to date. But when you've got something like this in your locker it could only be a matter of time:
Former world number one in the amateur game, Pan Cheng-tsung qualified for his 2017 PGA Tour card by finishing 11th in the 2016 Web.com season earnings. A second place at the Farmers Insurance Open last week was impressive for the Tour rookie and we can expect to see more of the same as the season progresses.
And, of course, we shouldn’t forget Sang-moon Bae - another South Korean star and a two-time winner on the PGA Tour. He is currently on a hiatus from golf as has been required to serve a mandatory 21 months of military service for his country of birth.
Due to return in August 2017, he will be aiming to get rid of his ring-rustiness and immediately recover from his lowly 587 world ranking.
Here are some of his most memorable shots from 2015: