The Asian Invasion

Watch out for "The Asian Invasion" of St Andrews as the best from the Davidoff Asian PGA Tour arrive on our shores

Chuah Choo Chang
Sat, 8 Jul 2000
The Asian Invasion

The Asian Invasion of the British Open, backed by Johnnie Walker, is expected to yield another successful conquest when 25 Asian PGA members attempt to play their way through final qualifying for a prized spot at St Andrews, Scotland.

Although the travelling party is smaller compared to previous years, Asian PGA supremo Ramlan Dato' Harun is in upbeat mood. He is confident that more players will successfully negotiate the demands of qualifying to join Myanmar's Kyi Hla Han at the hallowed Old Course for the Open proper from July 20-23. Han has been invited as the winner of the 1999 Davidoff Tour Order of Merit.

"We have made giant strides forward in recent years and following the experience gained from previous trips to the Open qualifying, I'm confident our members are now equipped with the knowledge to tackle the gruelling qualifying test under unfamiliar conditions," said Harun.

The Royal and Ancient has recently released the qualifying draw where four courses - Lundin Links, Leven Links, Ladybank and Scotscraig - will be used. An estimated 480 hopefuls, including some famous names in golf, will battle through 36 holes for about 50 remaining places at St Andrews.

In 1997, Singapore's Mardan Mamat, Gaurav Ghei of India and John Kernohan of the United States qualified for Royal Troon while Choi Kyung-ju of Korea and Australia's Grant Dodd made it through to Royal Birkdale the following year.

Prayad Marksaeng became the first Thai to qualify for the Open last July and Asian PGA representative Gilberto Morales of Venezuela joined him in the Carnoustie field.

Ghei, who is the first Indian golfer to play at the Open, will find comfort from this year's qualifying draw as he will play at Lundin Links with Kernohan. When both qualified three years ago, they had featured together in the same venue, Irvine Bogside.

Another incentive for Ghei is that qualifying for St Andrews will take him back to the course which witnessed one of the most stunning upsets in golf.

At the 1996 Alfred Dunhill Cup, Ghei stunned Europe's perennial number one, Colin Montgomerie of Scotland in a historic win for India.

Lundin Links, which offers a mixture of true links conditions and parkland, will host the biggest Asian PGA contingent consisting of nine members.

England's Ed Fryatt, who has won national opens in India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China, will play in the same group as 1986 British Open runner-up, Gordon Brand.

Other players at Lundin are Hong Kong's Scott Rowe, Taku Yamanaka of Japan, the South African trio of Des Terblanche, Nico Van Rensburg and Hendrik Buhrmann and American Clay Devers.

A fourth Springbok, James Kingston, holder of two titles already on this year's Davidoff Tour, will head the Asian PGA cast at Ladybank with Morales, Mamat and Scott Taylor of the United States.

At Leven Links, which is a true seaside links golf course, India's Amandeep Johl has been provisionally paired with native American Notah Begay III in the final qualifying although Begay, winner of back-to-back titles at the St Jude Classic and Canon Greater Hartford Open recently, should gain an exemption from the mini Order of Merit on the PGA Tour which grants British Open places to leading players.

Taiwan's Yeh Wei-tze, the Benson & Hedges Malaysian Open winner, will also play at Leven in his bid to follow compatriot Lu Liang-huang's footsteps. In 1971, "Mr" Lu, characterised by his pork pie hat, finished runner-up to American Lee Trevino at Royal Birkdale in what is the best finish by an Asian player at the Open.

Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee, who hasn't missed a cut all year on the Davidoff Tour this season, will hope to emulate Prayad's feat at Scotscraig where he will have for company India's Jyoti Randhawa, the 2000 Wills Indian Open, South African Craig Kamps and American duo Ahmad Dan Bateman and Aaron Meeks.

India's Jeev Milkha Singh, who plays regularly on the European Tour, has withdrawn from the final qualifying due to injury. United Distilers and Vintners Asia Pacific Managing Director Ed Shyurng said: "Asian golf is on the upswing and I'm delighted that a group of professionals from the the region will be competing in the final qualifying rounds for the British Open.

"It is the dream of every golfer to play in the British Open and we at Johnnie Walker are pleased to help them on the road to fulfilling their ambitions."

Johnnie Walker's backing means that players can travel together, stay together, practice together and generally help one another in what has become an Asian PGA team effort.