“Never say never to an Asian major”

Another HSBC Women’s Champions, another star-studded Asian field and finally a glimmer of hope that Asia may yet see an LPGA major.

By Ian Griffiths at the HSBC Women’s Champions, Singapore

As the likes of Japan’s Ai Miyazato and South Korean star Jiyai Shin drove, chipped and putted their way around the Tanah Merah Country Club’s perfectly manicured Garden Course in Singapore, recently installed LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan was busy telling reporters that his association has not ruled out the possibility of handing Asia one of women’s golf’s biggest prizes.

In a world often plagued by the nonsensical, the ebullient Whan’s declaration smacked of commonsense, of a move borne out of logic, out of the undeniable globalisation of golf and, in recognition of the powerful financial beast that the sport has become, out of a generous helping of business sense.

“We really are not anti-Asian major,” Whan, who was only appointed LPGA commissioner last January, explained.

“I don’t think in the long term we are going to be talking about golf courses, golf tournaments or golf sponsors in terms of where they are.

“There is certainly zero doubt that the (Asian) markets we are in can handle a major, that we can get media coverage, that we can get television coverage and that the players would come.

“All of those check marks are checked and so is it feasible? The answer is yes, it is,” he added.

Whan’s admission that the LPGA’s movers and shakers are not averse to launching a major in Asia, will be music to the ears of golfing aficionados in the region, devotees of the women’s game whose demands for such a tournament have, in recent times, reached an almost deafening crescendo.

The LPGA already has four majors that it oversees – three in the United States – the Kraft Nabisco, the LPGA Championship and the US Women’s Open – as well as one in the United Kingdom in the shape of the Women’s British Open.

With three of the ten top ranked female golfers from Asia, the momentum for extra focus to fall on Asia has, not surprisingly grown, with the call for additional tournaments – as well as that oh so elusive major – to be fitted in to a far from packed schedule that, as well as Singapore, already takes in Asian destinations such as Thailand, Japan, China and South Korea.

Despite the perceived historical reluctance of American-based players to broaden their horizons in terms of golfing locations, the rapid emergence of Asian talent has undeniably added weight to the pro-Asian major lobby, but it is the wildfire-like growth of golf around the globe that has given Whan the most food for thought.

“All you have to do is look at our own tour to realise that the borders of golf are gone,” he said.

“Some people are slower to wake up and realise that, but the LPGA has not been. When I looked at our Top Ten list on the day I started, I realised there were seven different countries represented in that Top Ten – it is different from how it was 10 or 15 years ago.

“It is exciting for me to wonder how it is going to look 10 years from now. I find we are still Talking about the HSBC in Singapore, I feel fairly confident that in three years we won’t have to add the ‘in Singapore’, and that people will know that we are playing in Singapore.

“Our Asian exposure and the business partners that are doing this are realising that it is a borderless sport, a borderless sport as regards to who plays it, where we play it and a borderless sport in terms of who supports it.”

Like most things in life however, there is a catch, and in the case of an Asian major that catch is the time span the LPGA are giving for the dream of many in this particular part of the world to become a reality.

“What I will tell you about majors is that they require 10,15or even 20 year visions, because they have to go down as a piece of history and not as a golf tournament,” Whan said.

“You have to find business partners that have this 10 or 15 year vision, that want to build something long-term, that want to commit the resources and communicate that message around the world.

“We do have the business partners in Asia. We have business partners that can think 10, 15 years, that can commit the kind of resources and that can create the kind of venue and size of field.

“We are not lacking the ability, it is just a matter of time until we find the right kind of partner. Are we working on it right now? No, we are not. But do I have some sort of shield built up against an Asian major? No I do not.

“The LPGA comes from around the world and so do our fans. Our fan base is clearly so our Tour needs to be.”

Founded in 1950, the LPGA’s vision is, and I quote: “to inspire, empower, educate and entertain by showcasing the best golf professionals in the world – the members of the LPGA.”

A noble thought indeed, but one that would surely ring even truer were there to be an Asian major.

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