Asian golf uncovered a new star this year with South Korean teen sensation Noh Seung-yul winning the Asian Tour Order of Merit race as a battle between rival tours raged on.
Noh became the youngest player ever to top the money list after bursting onto the scene by winning the European Tour co-sanctioned Malaysian Open in March, while China’s Liang Wenchong won the OneAsia Tour merit crown.
“I was happy to win the Malaysian Open this year. It allowed me to compete in Europe, the US and also the three Majors,” the 19-year-old said.
“It started from my win in Malaysia. The event was good for me,” Noh said.
Australia’s Marcus Fraser, who won the Ballantines Championship in South Korea in April, came second in the merit standings and said the Tour was fortunate to have a player of Noh’s caliber.
“Everyone knew it was going to happen. Noh Seung-yul was always going to fly away with the Order of Merit title,” he said. “He’s a great player. The Asian Tour is lucky to have him on the money list.”
In an open year, the only golfer to win more than once on the Asian Tour was Japan’s Tetsuji Hiratsuka (Myanamar Open and Queens Cup) while Siddikur became the first Bangladeshi to lift a trophy by claiming the Brunei Open.
Plenty of top European talent once again traveled to the region and some found success, including Padraig Harrington who snapped a two-year winless streak when he won the Johor Open in Malaysia.
Ian Poulter claimed the Hong Kong Open title while Adam Scott scored an unprecedented third victory at the Singapore Open.
The Asian Tour, meanwhile, set a new landmark by co-hosting a US PGA Tour event for the first time, with American Ben Crane holing a pressure-packed birdie at the last to lift the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic by a stroke.
“With such tremendous growth for golf in the region, the CIMB Asia Pacific Classic provided an exciting presence for the PGA Tour in Malaysia and Southeast Asia,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said.
A new 12-year television and production and global distribution deal was struck by the Asian Tour which players expect will attract more sponsors.
Thongchai Jaidee, by far the most successful golfer in the region, said the agreement would reap benefits.
“It could be really big for the Asian Tour,” he said.
However, undercurrents continued to run, with the Asian Tour and OneAsia Tour remaining at loggerheads.
OneAsia, which has brought together tours from China, South Korea and Australia, hosted 10 events, branching out into India and Thailand.
It plans at least 13 next year while the Asian Tour has announced a provisional 25-tournament schedule.
To counter any exodus, the Asian Tour rigorously enforced regulations that players who do compete on OneAsia without prior permission were fined US$5,000, with the threat of suspension hanging over them. Few made the jump.
Liang has been a firm supporter of OneAsia and topped their money list.
“I am very happy and honored. This is something that China supports and that gives me even more pride to take this trophy home,” he said. “This win will be encouraging for the development of golf back at home.”