World-class status a chip and a putt away for Asian PGA
As the Omega PGA Championship neared its climax at Clearwater Bay yesterday, a glow of satisfaction filled Seamus O'Brien as he sat back in the Asian PGA's hospitality suite and reflected on the progress of his most ambitious project.
There was not a trace of smugness in the tone of the man who has masterminded the revolution of professional golf in Asia.
Merely a steely conviction that his vision to create a world-class golfing circuit in the region is coming ever closer to fruition.
'When we started, how many thought we'd still be here now?' he asked. The answer would be very few. For when O'Brien announced his grand intentions, scepticism and opposition abounded.
Yet three years after its formation, not only are the APGA and the Omega Tour still here, but they are continuing to grow in strength and credibility.
'We've probably got as far as we could possibly have imagined. The Omega Tour is recognised as the fastest developing circuit in the world and is poised to be among the top four globally by the turn of the century,' said O'Brien.
Today, not many would dispute that statement. Not Tim Finchem, US PGA Tour commissioner, nor Ken Schofield, executive director of the PGA European Tour, who attended last night's end-of-season awards dinner.
It is true that several barriers still need to be overcome before unanimous international acceptance is confirmed. But with their third season and 61st tournament behind them, the APGA and O'Brien know it's only a matter of time.
According to O'Brien, the next stages of development are admission to the World Federation of Professional Golf Tours as its sixth member and for all Omega Tour events to be afforded World Ranking status.
'There is every indication that we are on track and it would be a big disappointment if it did not happen next year,' said O'Brien. 'To be included in the federation and World Ranking would finish off the building process that we have gone through. Then we could begin to concentrate more on decorating the inside.' Describing 1997 as a year of consolidation for the Tour, O'Brien predicted that 1998 would see a strengthening of playing standards.
'This year we have proved ourselves to the world by the quality of the performances of our players,' said O'Brien. 'Our members now know that they can perform alongside the best in the world . . . and you couldn't say that three years ago.
'Mardan [Mamat] qualifying for the British Open was a defining moment for Asian sport. He was front-page news in Singapore for three days. He's beaten the odds and beaten the system.
'He and [India's] Gaurav [Ghei] were the first to put their feet through the door. Now the floodgates will open.
'The mind-set of the players has changed. They now have self-belief. I think the inferiority complex has gone. The players have pride in themselves and their Tour and they want to let the world know about it.' They will have plenty of opportunities to do so in 1998 with a greater number of APGA members receiving a greater number of opportunities to perform at the highest level.
There will be an increase, too, in the number of events and prize money on the Omega Tour.
To be released next week, the 1998 schedule is expected to show a minimum of 24 tournaments as opposed to 22 this year, and purses totalling US$7 million, representing a five per cent year-on-year increase.
Those figures could yet increase significantly if the national Open championships of Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand join. That really would be cause for celebration for both the Asian PGA, the Omega Tour and the unity of Asian golf.
Spencer Robinson is managing editor of Asian Golfer