Photo by Paul Lakatos/Asian Tour.
Korea’s Joohyung Kim was all smiles at last week’s Blue Canyon Phuket Championship, the Asian Tour’s first event after a 20-month hiatus.
By Kent Gray
Look closely at the Asian Tour players going about their business within the palm-fringed confines of Laguna Phuket Resort this week and you might well discern a conspicuous uptick in intensity.
The smiles that permeated last week’s $1 million Blue Canyon Phuket Championship will no doubt endure, the calling card of collective and lasting relief that the circuit is back up and running after 20 workless months due to the pandemic.
But now the star-studded cast for February’s $5 million Saudi International has been unveiled, expect the range sessions and practice rounds of those prepping for the $1 million Laguna Phuket Championship starting Thursday to be tackled with even more resolve than normal.
Suddenly the chance to tee it up alongside the likes of Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson in the Asian Tour’s 2022 season-opener is real, not to mention the lure of the potentially life-changing prize money.
Before the circuit’s new “flagship” event near Jeddah from Feb. 3-6, there’s the not insignificant matter of three events to play to complete the hugely disrupted 2020-21 season.
The second leg of the Asian Tour Phuket Series at Laguna Golf Phuket this week and January’s Singapore double-header will be especially important for those scrambling to secure a start in Saudi courtesy of a top-30 finish in the Order Of Merit.
Still, it hasn’t stopped the likes of Joohyung Kim, the 19-year-old Korean star-in-waiting, looking ahead with relish to the Saudi International’s sanctioning switch from the DP World Tour to the Asian Tour.
“The Saudi International will give us a new opportunity to compete against the world’s best, something many Asian Tour players have never been afforded,” said Kim who moved up to third on the money list courtesy of finishing joint runner-up to Chinese Taipei’s Chan Shih-chang at Blue Canyon last week.
“Given the way events and ranking points are weighted on different tours, it was historically more challenging for players rising through the Asian Tour to find their way into the biggest events.”
Kim is convinced all the Asian Tour players need is a chance to show their capabilities at the highest level. That is now guaranteed courtesy of a 10-year agreement with Golf Saudi for sanctioning rights to the Saudi International. The annual Royal Green’s event, with its star pulling power, is the cherry on top of the icing provided by LIV Golf Investments in the form of an additional decade-long, $200 million investment in 10 new premier events to be bolted onto the Asian Tour schedule from 2022.
“The Asian Tour’s talent pool runs deep and, as we see every week, players from a diverse cross-section of nationalities are more than capable of competing at the highest level,” said Kim.
“More big events will help to create a more prosperous Asian Tour and, without doubt, create new talent that can compete on the biggest stage, giving the sport in Asia and around the world a very welcome shot in the arm.”