In Review: The 2012 Asian Tour

BY Asian Tour | 21 Dec 2012

Kuala Lumpur, December 20: The Asian Tour’s 2012 season will be remembered for the age-defying heroics of Thaworn Wiratchant, the success of fellow veterans Thongchai Jaidee and Jeev Milkha Singh and the emergence of young stars led by Gaganjeet Bhullar, David Lipsky and Arnond Vongvanij.

In a memorable year which saw the Asian Tour sanction 27 tournaments in Asia worth US$44.5 million to the region’s top stars, Thaworn, who turns 46 on December 28, enjoyed a season to remember with three magnificent victories which earned him a second Order of Merit crown since 2005. He finished just ahead of Australia’s Marcus Fraser.

By reaching the pinnacle once more, Thaworn became the oldest Asian Tour number one with an unprecedented 15 career victories.

Despite an unorthodox golf swing but armed with a wonderful short game which many believe is the best in the world – Thaworn took only 91 putts during the King’s Cup which is said to be a world record – he was victorious at the Queen’s Cup on home soil, Worldwide Holdings Selangor Masters in Malaysia and Hero Indian Open.

He also rose to a career high of 69th place on the final Official World Golf Ranking for 2012, with an eye now on qualifying for the Masters Tournament in April which will require him to break into the top-50 by the end of March, 2013.

“This is the result of hard work,” said a jubilant Thaworn, whose practice routine is to wake up at 5.30am every morning when he is home to begin a golf grind which includes hours at the chipping green.

“There are new players coming in and I’m getting older. That’s not an excuse but I definitely tried harder this time. I never thought I could win the Order of Merit at this age.

“Every day I spend time training and I only spend time with my family on Sunday. I love golf a lot. When I stay at home, I practice more than when I play in a tournament. I want to thank the Asian Tour, officials and players (for my success),” added the Thai.

He led a battle-hardened group of 40-something golfers to a memorable year. Singapore’s 45-year-old Mardan Mamat ended a six-year winless streak by lifting his third Asian Tour victory at the ICTSI Philippine Open while 40-year-old Digvijay Singh broke his duck with his maiden title at the Panasonic Open India since making his Tour debut in 2000.

Outside of Asia, Thongchai, 43, cemented his place as one of Asia’s living legends with a first victory on European soil, winning the ISPS Handa Wales Open while Jeev Milkha Singh, 41, won the Scottish Open for his third title in Europe.

“This shows the Asian Tour is continuing to produce top players,” said Thongchai, who holds a record three Asian Tour Order of Merit crowns.

The future remains bright as the Asian Tour’s youth brigade produced a bagful of eye-catching performances.

The 24-year-old Bhullar won twice at the Yeangder Tournament Players Championship and Venetian Macau Open and posted six other top-10s to end the year in a career high fifth place on the Order of Merit.

He also finished joint 10th in the star-studded CIMB Classic, an event co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour to rise to 89th in the world, becoming the youngest Indian to break the top-100.

“Mentally I improved as a player when I entered the Asian Tour. When you keep playing more tournaments, you will improve mentally. I struggled earlier in my career when I played with the big players. Watching Lee Westwood and seeing Ernie Els on the putting green was a huge motivation and I went on to the next level with my Asian Tour wins,” said Bhullar.

Countryman Anirban Lahiri, 25, won his second Tour title at the SAIL-SBI Open and made a memorable debut at the British Open, finishing tied 31st and firing the tournament’s only hole-in-one during the third round.

“You got to keep pushing yourself (on the Asian Tour). Every time you achieve a short term goal, you have to set new targets for yourself. The Asian Tour is one of the best places to do that,” said Lahiri.

A total of 11 players from Qualifying School enjoyed rewarding seasons as they finished the year in the top-61 of the Order of Merit to earn full playing status for 2013. Three rookies won maiden titles as well.

Japan’s Masanori Kobayashi won the Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open on home soil to finish the year in fourth place on the Merit list and was named the Rookie of the Year while American David Lipsky won the Handa Faldo Cambodian Classic to finish 11th on the rankings.

Lipsky was glad he took the advice from multiple Asian Tour winner Charlie Wi to enter the Qualifying School. “It’s (The Asian Tour) given me the opportunity to play against the best players in the world. For example, I played in Switzerland, Korea and Malaysia earlier this year and that’s what I really needed to test my game against these great players,” said the Korean-American.

Young Thai Arnond Vongvanij is another future star to watch after he defeated Thaworn and Mardan to win the King’s Cup in November. “I’m very happy with the way I played all year. It was a good learning experience. The King’s Cup win was unexpected as Mardan and Thaworn were battling it out and I never thought I would win. Somehow I ended on top,” said the 24-year-old.

Many is also tipping the 20-year-old Thitiphun Chuayprakong to emulate the success of Thongchai and Thaworn. He finished second in the star-laden Thailand Golf Championship and third in the Venetian Macau Open, earning the admiration of Charl Schwartzel who won in Thailand.

“I can’t pronounce his name, the guy I played with. Thi-ti-phun? He was very good. He hits it very short and playing on this golf course the way he did, it was pretty phenomenal. He has such a good short game and a good putting stroke. I was very impressed with what I saw,” said Schwartzel.

Sri Lanka’s Mithun Perera and Kalle Samooja of Finland, who missed out on top-40 finishes at Qualifying School which is required to earn a Tour card, made the most of their limited appearances to finish 47th and 50th on the Order of Merit. It only proved the opportunities gained from Qualifying School do bear fruits for aspiring stars.

Asian Tour Executive Chairman Kyi Hla Han hailed Thaworn’s terrific achievements in re-writing the history books while predicting another great year ahead in 2013.

“It goes to show that age is no barrier to success and our fullest congratulations go to Thaworn for his outstanding year on the Asian Tour,” said Han.

“With the continued support of corporate Asia and our partners in the International Federation of PGA Tours, the Asian Tour will continue to grow and we are confident the future of professional golf in the region is secure through the unity, strength and continued performance of our members both on our Tour and internationally.

“We are pleased with the development and growth of our players as many new Asian stars have emerged from the Asian Tour. Gaganjeet Bhullar, who is 24, won twice this year while Anirban Lahiri, who is a year older, won his second career title and also enjoyed a strong Major debut at the British Open.

“Thailand’s Arnond Vongvanij, who came through Qualifying School, broke through in November at the King’s Cup while other young players such as Thitiphun Chuayprakong, Gunn Charoenkul and Mithun Perera are players to watch in the future.

“We have successfully developed a strong number of full-field Asian Tour events which are now world-class including the Thailand Golf Championship, Iskandar Johor Open, Hero Indian Open, CJ Invitational hosted by KJ Choi, Venetian Macau Open and CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters. In addition, we also launched two new events in 2012."

In many ways, 2012 will be remembered as a year for the veterans with Thaworn finishing on top of the Order of Merit with earnings of US$738,046 and 56-year-old countryman Boonchu Ruangkit providing another wonderful story in his colourful career by grabbing the final and full playing card with his 61st place finish on the Merit rankings.

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