Banned Swede fights for place in HK Open

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 February, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 February, 1994, 12:00am

JOHAN Tumba, the Swedish golfer banned for cheating by the European PGA Tour, will this morning make an 11th-hour bid to win his re-instatement for this week's US$300,000 Kent Hong Kong Open at Fanling.

Within hours of being barred from competing in Hong Kong's showpiece golfing event which tees-off at the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club tomorrow, Tumba last night requested a meeting with tournament officials to state his case.

Tumba has vehemently protested his innocence to the claims that he allegedly altered his scorecard in a European Tour School pre-qualifying tournament in 1991 which led to the ban.

At 9 am today he will meet with the Open's organising committee in the hope that they will reverse their decision and allow him to participate.

Tumba won his Asian Tour card in the Philippines earlier this month and was registered to take part in the Open. However, at the request of the Golf Association of Hong Kong, the tournament organisers, he was withdrawn early yesterday evening.

John Crawshaw, president of the association, said: ''We have to take at face value the fact that the player has been banned in Europe for cheating and we are supportive of the decision that he will not play in the Kent Open.'' John Benda, the Asian Tour co-ordinator, said each host country reserves the right to refuse entry to any individual.

Tumba competed in last week's Philippine Open in Manila, the opening leg of the 1994 circuit, where he missed the half-way cut.

Benda said inquiries were carried out by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, the region's ruling golfing body, before Tumba's application to play at the Asian Tour Qualifying School was accepted.

As well as receiving confirmation from the Swedish PGA that he was a player of good standing within their organisation, Benda said the European Tour did not request that Tumba be stopped from competing on the Asian Tour although they confirmed he was still banned from their circuit.

''The Asian Tour made the decision to accept Tumba's application based on those findings. We will be encouraging him to stay with the tour,'' said Benda.

Tumba, 29, has steadfastly claimed his innocence since the ban was imposed on him in January 1992. Originally, Tumba was disqualified from membership of the European PGA Tour and from playing in events held under their auspices for 10 years.

Upon appeal, however, the ban was reduced to three years, commencing in April 1992. Following the appeal hearing, Tumba, son of Sven Tumba, the driving force behind golf in Scandinavia for two decades said: ''It doesn't matter whether it was one month, three years or 10 years.

''They had no idea what this means to a person like me. It's my whole life. I feel great pity for an organisation that is able to ban someone on hearsay and nothing else.'' Speaking in Hong Kong on Monday evening after playing a practice round at Fanling, Tumba, who is married with an 18-month-old son, said: ''When new evidence was put forward they (the European Tour) reduced my ban to three years. They wouldn't go all the way. They couldn't admit they were wrong. They were protecting their own backs.

''It's been very tough on me, but I've known all along that I'm innocent. I live in the present . . . all that is in the past.'' The incident that led to the ban took place in September 1991 at a European Tour School pre-qualifying tournament at Quietwaters in Essex when Tumba allegedly changed his scorecard from a 74 to a 72.

Englishman Ian Roper, who had marked Tumba's card for a 74, reported his misgivings to the tour who took the unprecedented step of sending the card off to Scotland Yard for forensic tests.

The tests showed that on two holes the original figure of five had been erased and replaced by a four. The tour was satisfied that the alterations were not made by the hand of Roper.

Following the disciplinary hearing the European Tour released a statement saying: ''He (Tumba) was found guilty, on the evidence presented, of changing his scorecard not in accordance with the Rules of Golf after the second round of pre-qualifying and thereby gaining an advantage.'' Tumba, who had gone on to finish tied for 25th at the school and so win his card, spent thousands of pounds on legal fees but said he could not afford to take the matter to the high courts which would have cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Following a year in the wilderness working as a club professional in his home country, Tumba decided to try his luck on the Asian Tour.