Galaxy of stars
August 8, 2018
If all roads lead to Rome, it would be an apt sporting analogy to accede that all fairways meandering across the world of golf will steer the dreamers and gifted into golfing heaven that is known as the PGA TOUR.
By Chuah Choo Chiang
Senior Director, Communications
Representing the pinnacle of professional tournament golf, the PGA TOUR undoubtedly attracts the greatest golfers on the planet which now includes a cosmopolitan line-up of 88 international players from 27 nations.
Interestingly, each member has undertaken unique journeys beginning from different starting points but eventually reaching their ultimate destination. And many will attest that Tiger Woods has been another major inspiration in their bid to shoot for the stars.
For Asia, a growing legion of young and exciting talents from South Korea, China, Japan, India and Chinese Taipei are now realising their American dream, with big-hitting Kiradech Aphibarnrat being the latest. Kiradech has garnered sufficient FedExCup points to virtually become the first Thai golfer to earn a PGA TOUR card for the 2018-19 PGA TOUR season.
The 28-year-old Kiradech began his golfing adventure on the Asian Tour where his success led him to the European Tour. From there, he secured multiple victories to gain entry into the World Golf Championships and two top-fives in the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play have since paved his way to the PGA TOUR this year.
Other Asian aspirants have ventured on windier routes. One such golfer is South Korea’s Byeong Hun An, known better as Ben An. He learned to play the game when he was five despite both parents being Olympic Games medalists in table tennis and as his interest in golf grew, he was sent to the United States at 15 to attend school and undergo the golf programme at the IMG Academy at Bradenton, Florida.
In two years, not only did he learn to speak and write in English, An sensationally won the prestigious U.S. Amateur, becoming the youngest champion in the tournament history. An failed in his first attempt at PGA TOUR Qualifying School and landed on the European Challenge Tour, sending him to the far reaches at destinations such as Kenya, Azerbaijan, Oman and Kazakhstan.
However, the hard knocks on Europe’s secondary circuit toughened him up and An’s class eventually shone as he played his way onto the European Tour, and then breaking through with a massive win at the 2015 BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. In the following year, he produced five top-25s in 14 starts to earn his PGA TOUR card through the non-member category and the amiable South Korean has continued to knock on the door to a first victory in America, coming agonizingly close in June when he lost in a playoff to Bryson Dechambeau at the Memorial Tournament.
In contrast, Zecheng ‘Marty’ Dou’s path began at home, with the PGA TOUR Series-China, one of three development tours run by the PGA TOUR, playing a pivotal role. As a six-year-old, he learned the game in Vancouver where he spent five years in Canada with his family as his father wanted he and his sister to learn English and experience Western living. Dou started winning junior tournaments including the World Junior 13-14 age-group, represented China in the Asian Games, dreamed of playing alongside Woods and turned professional at a tender age of 17 after accepting an invitation to compete in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.
From growing up in cities like Seoul and Vancouver and then competing in destinations such as Toronto, Muscat and Nairobi, the likes of An, Dou and a growing band of Asian rising stars have shown there are more than just one way to get onto the PGA TOUR.