I remember a conversation with Gavin Green in Vietnam just after he turned pro in the latter part of 2015. I was intrigued as to why he had made some swing changes. After all, this was a player who as an amateur had won an Asian Development Tour event by 12 shots. Gavin made a reasoned argument about consistency and taking his game to the next level. It worries me when a player that to my eyes seems such a natural, decide that natural talent is not enough. Will they just make things worse?
I had a more detailed conversation with Kiradech Aphibarnrat outside our hotel in Prague at the beginning of September. He explained why he had made changes to his swing, how he had been “bored” of being ranked between 50 and 100 in the world and how he watched up close the likes of Sergio and Westwood and how he wanted that consistency of ball striking. At the start of September, Kiradech’s swing alterations looked like a gamble that wasn’t paying off. He was no longer ranked 50 to 100 in the world. He was number 160.
I bring up both these conversations in the hindsight and knowledge of what happened next. After a year of bedding in his changes, Gavin Green has gone from ADT winner to become the 1st Malaysian to end the year as Asian Tour number one. And after our chat, Kiradech challenged in some of the biggest events on the European Tour and ended the year inside the top 50 thanks to that magnificent eagle at the 18th hole at Royale Jakarta Golf Club. These guys are not only talented, they obviously not what they are doing. And from an Asian Tour standpoint, they are probably the biggest success stories of 2017. And I look forward to seeing how both these players progress on the European Tour in 2018 alongside Phachara, Jazz and other Asian tour regulars
It’s a sign of my age that the years seem to fly by even quicker. It’s 7 years now since I stepped into the commentary box alongside Dom Boulet for my first Asian Tour commentary. Dom is “the voice” of Asian golf although there are a few who might question that if they had heard him singing at the Asian Tour awards! Over the last year, Anthony Kang has become a regular in the box with us and it’s great to hear the insights of someone who has won some of the biggest events on the tour. And Tim Low has shown his terrific way of words brought to the fore with his on-course commentary. The biggest compliment I can make to Tim is that he makes that job seem easy, which believe me, it isn’t. And the good news is that he’s stopped calling me Dom!
Never mind the last 7 years, it will soon be time again for the SMBC Singapore Open. What a start to the year that was. And one for the old boys as Prayad Marksaeng showed that age is no barrier. Cleaning up on the Japanese Senior Tour as well, Prayad has a swing that defies time. You can see him going on to becoming the oldest Asian Tour winner. Mardan Mamat and Thaworn Wiratchant might be pushing him though in the over 50s stakes in 2018.
Whether it’s on the Asian Tour or any of the other main tours, the level and ability of the youngsters taking their 1st steps in to pro life continues to impress. Todd Sinnott came straight from Q School to win in Myanmar and started a long line of 1st time winners. There seems to be no set path, does there? Look at Jazz. Starting the year without Asian Tour status, then a winner and now a European Tour card in the back pocket. Another couple of players player who came onto the Asian Tour in their mid-teens, Rattanon Wannasrichan and Panuphol Pittayarat claimed their 1st silverware too. They are all still so young, yet have already clocked up so much experience. You can’t say the same about Micah Shin, though. He didn’t pick up his 1st golf club until he was 13 years old. Yet seven years on he is an Asian Tour champion and what a dramatic way to win, starting his final round in Manila with a dreaded 15th club in the bag.
Indian golf took a massive stride forward too in 2017. Ajateesh Sandhu and Shubankar Sharma have given us a sense of what the future holds. But much of the success came from India’s established stars. While Anirban Lahiri shone for the Internationals in an otherwise one-sided President’s Cup, Shiv Kapur finally got back into the winner’s circle. What a year for Shiv and most of it so good. 3 wins, a little baby and a bout of dengue fever! Gaganjeet Bhullar won again and has ended his year by getting married and a golfing honeymoon! SSP Chawrasia the Indian Open champion again and came so close in Hong Kong. And how about that display from Arjun Atwal in Mauritius. I wouldn’t be surprised if the EurAsia Cup captain can convert that late season form into a couple of wins in the coming year.
I have just looked back at the predictions that I made 12 months ago. I went for Miguel Tabuena to win the rankings and for Anirban Lahiri to win on the PGA Tour. I could easily go for the same guess in 2018. But just to try something different, I will go for Gaganjeet Bhullar to pip Micah Shin and end the new year as Asian Tour number one and a top 5 finish from Kiradech at the Masters.
Happy New Year