Dou Zecheng’s US breakthrough highlights PGA Tour’s China failure rather than shine light on a pathway to success
PGA Tour China Series order of merit winner in 2016 earns a card on the top-level tour with last week’s win, but will he be the last?
Silence is deafening, they say. If a tree falls in a wood and no one is around, does it make a sound?
If a golf ball is hit in China and the PGA Tour is not around, does it count?
Dou Zecheng’s victory on the Web.com Tour in Kansas last weekend should have been a moment for the PGA Tour and China to celebrate the success of their development structure, but instead highlighted their failure to establish a foothold on the mainland.
Dou, who is known as Marty, earned his spot in the second-tier circuit after running away with the PGA Tour China Series order of merit in 2016 after posting four wins.
The 20-year-old then secured a top-25 finish on the Web.com Tour money list, thanks to last weekend’s victory in the Digital Ally Open, and with it a place among the big boys next season.
Dou is the first Chinese player to earn PGA Tour spurs and the first to complete the stepping-stone process from PGA Tour China Series to PGA Tour member.
It was amazing week at the @digitalallyopen , couldn't say how happy I am right now, played the best round and shot 61, feels so awesome! Great thanks to all the teams behind my back, couldn't have done it without you guys! A big thanks to all the fans that was supporting me cheering me up, that really kept me motivated. Se you guys down the road. @taylormadegolf @titleist @odysseygolf @footjoy @webdotcomtour #bewebstrong #theroadtopgatour
A post shared by Zecheng Dou (@zechengmartydou) on Jul 31, 2017 at 1:04pm PDT
World number 66 Li Haotong won the inaugural PGA Tour China Series order of merit in 2014, although despite his headlining grabbing display at the British Open at Royal Birkdale, he is not a PGA Tour member, but that will probably change pretty soon.
But the question is, will world number 214 Dou also be the last with the PGA Tour China Series having seemingly been forced out of China by the China Tour, which is backed by the European Tour and Asian Tour?
It does not take a genius to see that PGA Tour China Series minus PGA Tour equals China Tour – and that is what we have.
The tour’s website is virtually the same, apart from the distinct lack of PGA Tour branding and the addition of the logos of the European Tour and Asian Tour.
Watch: Digital Ally Open final round highlights
The China Tour Series section on the main PGA website is still there, but only shows the 2016 schedule and a smattering of reports, including a take on Dou’s exploits last week and hailing his progress through the ranks.
The Asian Tour returned to China earlier this year for the first time since 2008 after announcing a “strategic partnership” with the China Golf Association (CGA), and with it what seems to be the end or at least pause of the PGA Tour’s direct involvement in the mainland.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said in May that: “There’s a good chance that [the PGA Tour China Series] won’t happen this year and that we may take a year off.”
That has to sting just a little bit for the man who replaced Tim Finchem as PGA Tour chief at the start of 2017, as he added: “That’s cause for concern.”
Monahan did say: “We have a lot invested in that. We really want to make that work.”
The PGA Tour also runs similar circuits for Latin America and Canada, with the three-year deal with the CGA and the China Olympic Sports Industry (COSI) running out at the end of 2016, although there was never any rumblings that it would not continue when PGA Tour officials spoke at last year’s Clearwater Bay Open in Hong Kong.
Talk at Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club in November was only of expansion further afield into Greater China, with the concept already proving a moderate success even before Dou’s elevation.
But reports in April suggested a falling out with the PGA Tour and their partners in China, with PGA Tour China managing director Greg Gilligan saying they were “stuck” and there was a “lack of clarity”.
The latest version of the China Tour is under way with next week’s Yulongwan Yunnan Open the fourth regular season event on the 16-event schedule.
But there is a notable absentee, and that is the Clearwater Bay Open which made its debut last year as the first stop on the tour outside of mainland China. The future of the event remains unclear, and again, the silence is deafening.
With every sports body from the AFL in Australia to the NBA and NFL seeking to establish a foothold in China, the PGA Tour seems to have earned the dubious honour of being forced out, despite all the talk of expansion in the region, and now find themselves alongside the short-lived OneAsia tour on the ‘not-wanted’ list.
Hong Kong still has some involvement on the China Tour with Jason Hak Shun-yat 20th on the order of merit after making the cut in each of the three events this season, including a tie for eighth in Beijing in June.
Gilligan also spoke of his hope of still staging tournaments this year by reaching out to a “higher authority” or “provincial-level officials to approve the events”, although that would mean bypassing the CGA, and that is not wise or practical.
And higher authorities in Beijing are more likely to close golf courses before allowing you to play on them.
It only took over eight years for the CGA and the Asian Tour to kiss and make up, so the PGA Tour will need to practise patience.