To the fore with the four

The Asian Tour is truly the Players' Tour. Bowing to pressure from a majority of players - namely the Thais, Indians and Taiwanese ­- the Tour yesterday announced a major shake-up of its board of directors.

As the players demanded last week (see facsimile below), out went former European Tour chief executive Ken Schofield, Hong Kong-based Canadian businessman Rick Siemens and Gautam Thapar, founder of India's Avanthar Group, as the board's non-playing members.

In come four heavyweights who, as the Asian Tour statement said yesterday, "are prominent businessmen and industry leaders in their respective countries, avid golfers and have the desire and vision to grow the Asian Tour".

They are Emmet Hsu, chairman of the Yeangder Group (sponsors of the Asian Tour's Tournament Players Championship which carries a prize purse of $700,000), Enrique K Razon Jr who is chairman of Philippines container company ICTSI (the sponsor of this week's Philippine Open), Jimmy Masrin, president and CEO of Indonesian chemicals and mining firm PT Caturkarsa Megatunggal, and Jaturon Himathongkom, sports marketing director of Thai brewing giant Singha Corp.

KYI THE KEY

The statement also said that the Asian Tour executive chairman Kyi Hla Han (a former top player who won the Singapore Open in 1994), who was also on the board, will be the "interim Tour Commissioner".

The board shake-up follows last week's announcement that Asian Tour chief executive Mike Kerr, a strong supporter of the merger, had resigned for undisclosed reasons.

Among the playing directors, only Chinese veteran Zhang Lianwei survives with Lam Chih Bing of Singapore, Australia's Scott Barr and Thailand's Boonchu Ruangkit all out.

Zhang has been joined by senior Indian player and EurAsia Cup captain Jeev Milkha Singh, with two more set to be nominated by the Tournament Players Committee, whose chairman Lam resigned two weeks ago.

No reasons were given for the sweeping changes, which comes on the heels of a fierce debate over the last two months over plans to merge the Asian and European Tours' business dealings and memberships and create a mega-Tour straddling the two continents.

Obviously, the players - of whom almost 400 compete on the Asian Tour and the Asian Development Tour regularly - want the merger but without compromising on their members' playing opportunities. They also want a big say on the terms of the proposed merger.

Already, many Asian golfers - especially the fringe players - had voiced concerns that they will lose opportunities to play and make a living, as they could be squeezed out of tournament spots by European rivals.

That would be a consequence of the merger for how else can one interpret the union which would mean slots have to be reserved for European players in competitions where there can be only a finite number of entries (144) over four playing days.

Two days ago, the European Tour's tournament committee chairman and Tour veteran Thomas Bjorn said that Asian players shouldn't worry about losing playing opportunities if the mega Tour goes ahead.

The Dane said: "I appreciate some of the (Asian Tour) players are concerned, but they will actually benefit from it... It will provide a great opportunity for the young Asian players."

Yes, the mega Tour can provide a platform for Asian players to take off and aim for bigger events, but we are not talking about only the (Anirban) Lahiris, (Thongchai) Jaidees and (Kiradech) Aphibarnrats.

We are more concerned about the up-and-coming Koh Dengshans, Quincy Queks and Choo Tze Huangs who, with the merger, would be dumped out of many events that they are currently participating in because of the influx of Europeans.

And, mind you, golfers such as the 20-something trio have committed themselves to a play-for-pay career as a livelihood.

Some Asian Tour players also raised concerns about the European Tour's push for the merger.

DON'T MERGE

One insider, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: "We don't want the merger. We are happy with the Asian Tour, and it should be a playing field for mainly Asian golfers."

He then cited two moves by the European Tour that he felt went against the wishes of the Asian Tour.

He asked: "How can the Euro Tour link up with OneAsia (Asian Tour's rivals) in the co-sanctioned Volvo China Open for several years?

"And why did they get involved in the BMW Masters in Shanghai a week after the HSBC?"

Obviously, the new board has people with clout, and the four influential members have the welfare of Asian players at heart.

And together with Kyi Hla as interim commissioner - his new duties include "enhancing the playing opportunities for its members" - the signs are encouraging for Asian players.

Merger or not.


This article was first published on December 17, 2015.
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