The Asian golfing invasion is on our doorsteps; it’s been on its way for quite some time and there has always been an abundance of great talent. From the old-school class of Isao Aoki and Jumbo Ozaki to today’s superstars in the form of Y.E. Yang, K.J. Choi and the dashing young buck, Ryo Ishikawa, the pedigree has always been there. It was just a case of drumming up the numbers to make the necessary impact – and that was never going to be a problem.
Hats off to the girls as well – they are owning the women’s game at the moment. Why are they ahead of the men, you may ask? Well, there are a number of factors, but I believe national service has something to do with it. In South Korea, for example, young men have to endure two years of military service and that amount of time out of the game is critical in terms of one’s golfing development.
Golf in this part of the world has been strong for many years. The Asian and Japanese Tours have prospered in the modern game. I played in Asia in my late teens before heading to broaden my horizons on your great tour in Europe. It was very hard to beat them in their own backyard. A fantastic learning curve for what was ahead of me, the fields were extremely competitive and individuals were always up for the challenge. There was definitely that in-built quality and hunger to compete – almost machine-like.
Those guys played the game, well, differently to say the least. A lot of them were self-taught with swings like busted, rusty old gates and short games that would make the eyes of the great Seve Ballesteros simply water. Their skills around the greens defied belief. Sitting around the dinner table in the evening with my golfing pals, the conversation would lead to: “Who did you play with today?” “I played this local lad who got it up and down out of ball washers.” The whole table would stand up and shout: “So did I!”
I need to be careful here, and I certainly do not want to offend because I admire the hard work that complements such sporting prowess, but question marks and dodgy dealings tended to scar these golfing skills. Sadly, a reputation was built on some unsavoury incidents. I honestly believe it was just the golfing environment these guys learnt their trade in, but spike marks were being tapped down, balls moved in the rough, all sorts. I could go on, but just about everything that could happen, ‘allegedly’ did happen. So much so that the non-Asian players got so fed up with the ‘alleged cheating’ that a lot would refuse to sign the locals’ scorecards. You wouldn’t believe how corrupt it was.
Time and time again the Asian officials would side with their own players and sign their scorecards and on it would go. It was very sad. Thankfully, those days are long gone due to ‘professionalism’ prevailing. Like I say, I don’t think it was the players’ fault. In my opinion it was the way in which they were taught how to play the game, and how to conduct themselves.
We were all brought up to be honest, but we were also brought up learning the Rules of the game. If you weren’t honest on the golf course and didn’t know where the Rules came from, then you were in all sorts of trouble. These guys weren’t given lessons on the Rules, and it is there that they missed a trick. I’m not here to make excuses for bad behaviour, but golf is still a relatively new sport in Asia and it remains a very privileged one at that.
So here we are and Y.E. Yang has won a Major, veteran K.J. is a proven winner across the globe and Ryo looks like he has the game to take on all comers. But these boys are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more Asians are beginning to stake a claim; just look at Soth Korea’s Jin Jeong, this year’s Silver Medallist at the Open – a great talent who played with great freedom.
It’s scary, but it’s great for the game; there are so many talented Asian players now that the rest of the world had better start hitting the range if they want to stay ahead of them…
There’s more from Wayne Riley in your December issue of Golf Monthly, on sale now
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