Give credit to Clearwater Bay Open but it needs a harmonious PGA Tour China to prosper
Organisation’s chief promises more quality players after differences resolved and four-year deal signed
There was some pretty impressive golf at the Clearwater Bay Open last week, but as a cut line of 15 over on Friday would suggest, you had to wade through a fair bit of rubbish to find it.
The phrase ‘Everyone wins a prize’ came to mind when they split the field, with 70 of the field of 96 progressing to the weekend, despite some being 18 shots off the lead.
In fairness, the quality of golf on the final day was not to be sneezed at, with 12 players shooting under-par rounds, but as far as a four-day spectacle, the event was left wanting somewhat.
But fear not, the PGA Tour has solved it differences with Chinese authorities and 2018 promises more events, more money and better golf.
Surely this will mean a higher standard of play – and player – at next year’s Clearwater Bay Open?
Although this year’s event was still in theory part of the PGA Tour China, the tour being in an enforced hiatus seems to have impacted on the standard.
It doesn’t seem a coincidence that last year, while the event was part of a fully fledged tour, Daniel Nisbet and Alex Kang went to a play-off after finishing on 15 under, and this year James Marchesani won with seven under.
It’s not as if conditions were overly tough – a pesky breeze maybe, but certainly not a gale.
Even the beauty of the course couldn’t guarantee great golf this time around, despite Nisbet’s claim last year that “this is the most breathtaking course I’ve ever played, it’s hard to play bad golf around here”.
But the worst is most definitely behind us. With 14 events and a minimum purse of 1.5 million yuan, we are told quality players will flock to the mainland in 2018.
“I see more interest from international players coming over to China,” said Greg Carlson, the executive director of PGA Tour China. “I think we will get better fields with the quality of player.”
The players are certainly keen, with day one leader David Lutterus and Marchesani, both Aussies, open to the idea of playing in China.
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The rapid progression of Dou Zecheng and Zhang Xinjun from the PGA Tour China to the Web.com and onto the PGA Tour proper has certainly seen players stand up and take notice.
South Korea’s Cho Rak-hyun probably puts it best when he describes how the perception of the China Tour has changed in the eyes of the players.
“I know a lot of my friends weren’t looking at this tour but now they are because those two guys [Dou and Zhang] actually made it up there,” Cho said.
“They kind of think of this tour as a third tour, behind the PGA Tour Latin America and Canada, and the lowest strength of field.
“They have never been here but they still say that. Watching Dou and Zhang play good this quick, in a couple of years, it just proves that this tour is legit and that if you play well out here you can play well anywhere. My ultimate goal is to be on the PGA Tour and I think this tour is like a short cut.”
So the players are on board, seemingly more now than ever, and the PGA “want to be in China forever”.
A four-year deal with the China Golf Association seems to be a good start, but the reality is there is nothing to say the red tape that stalled progress this year won’t rear its head again down the track.
Chances are the progress of the tour will forever be in the hands of the Chinese government, and intermissions like this year’s aren’t helping anyone.
A positive for the Clearwater Bay Open is that Carlson sees it as a key event on the PGA Tour China moving forward. Even better, it seems the Open would continue to exist even if the tour hits another wall.
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Let’s just hope, for the sake of the fans, that a bigger and better China Tour will mean a boost in the quality of golf at Clearwater Bay in years ahead.
Because as we all know, even Aussie Nisbet who finished the tournament at 11 over, a beautiful course doesn’t guarantee beautiful golf.