Singapore: The first half of the 2019 Asian Tour season will be best remembered for thrusting a handful of the region’s most promising players into the global spotlight.
As ever, the Asian Tour Qualifying School continues to act as a launch-pad for aspiring golfers as they embark on their professional careers and chase their golfing dreams.
This year, it did not take long for the likes of rookies such as Zach Murray and Sadom Kaewkanjana to create ripples in the golfing world with their respective wins at the New Zealand Open and Bangabandhu Cup Golf Open in Bangladesh.
At the season-opening event in January, Thai Jazz Janewattananond found his winning rhythm when he outclassed a host of quality players including Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey and Davis Love III to lift the SMBC Singapore Open trophy for his third Asian Tour title.
The following month, New Zealand’s Ryan Fox then produced a dominant performance in the final match by beating Spain’s Adrian Otaegui 3&2 to lift the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth trophy.
Like the unique formats of the World Super 6 Perth and New Zealand Open, Murray endeared himself to the crowds when he signalled his arrival on the big stage by becoming the third fastest Qualifying School graduate to win on the Asian Tour in March.
Murray’s wire-to-wire victory at the New Zealand Open was made even sweeter as it was his first professional win, achieved in only his third start on the Asian Tour, a Full Business Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
Victory at the Maybank Championship in March was especially special for Australian Scott Hend as he cemented his status as the most successful international golfer on the Asian Tour when he claimed his 10th victory in Malaysia.
Hend’s play-off success over Spain’s Nacho Elvira was his first in three years since. With that triumph, the Australian also became only the second player, following Thonghcai Jaidee in 2014, to surpass US$5 million in career earnings.
March also saw Scotsman Stephen Gallacher stage a remarkable comeback by firing three birdies in his closing four holes to win the Hero Indian Open.
Not to be outdone in the tale of rookies, young Thai Sadom surpassed Murray’s earlier feat by became the record fastest Qualifying School graduate to win on the Asian Tour in his very first start at the Bangabandhu Cup Golf Open.
Sadom secured his 2019 Asian Tour card in his first attempt at Qualifying School and struck gold again with his first Tour victory and a second win as a professional, having savoured a maiden win on the Asian Development Tour (ADT) in February.
The Asian Tour headed to East Asia in May where an exciting run of events in China, Korea and Japan reignited the Order of Merit battle.
Finland’s Mikko Korhonen ensured his play-off duel with France’s Benjamin Hebert would end in victory when he drained an eight-foot birdie putt on the first play-off hole to win the Volvo China Open.
The 38th GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship saw the trophy remaining on home soil when Korean Lee Tae-hee edged Finland’s Janne Kaske to claim his first Asian Tour title.
A week later, Japan’s Yosuke Asaji held his nerve to win the Asia-Pacific Diamond Cup in Chiba Prefecture.
Beyond home comforts, the golfing world also began to take notice of South African Justin Harding and Jazz, who both made major impressions as they soared in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).
Harding continued to make waves even on the European Tour by winning the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters in March and emerged as one of the surprise packages at The Masters Tournament. He finished tied for 12th to earn a return ticket to The Masters in 2020.
American Kurt Kitayama, who graduated from Qualifying School in 2018, also made big strides in the Middle East when he was crowned the Oman Open champion. It was his second European Tour title since winning the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open last December.
Jazz then took his prolific form to the Major stage when he finished tied-14th at the PGA Championship. It was the best result by a Thai at the PGA Championship and moved him to a career-high 69th place on the OWGR.
With the action due to resume this month at the 62nd Korea Open Championship, it’s fitting that Hend and Jazz are leading the way in the Asian Tour Order of Merit standings.
Expect more twists and turns in the coming months.