In 19 years on the golf beat, I’ve visited five continents and more than two dozen countries. I’ve been to Europe at least once every year since 1995.
But, until today, golf has never taken me to Asia.
The destination is Shanghai, for the BMW Masters, one of the biggest tournaments on the, ahem, European Tour. With apologies to that nice little gathering on Sea Island, Ga., and the upcoming working vacation at Disney, the most important golf being played this time of year is in Asia. It’s time for me to see some of it, live.
Eleven of the European Ryder Cuppers will be in Shanghai, including world No. 1 Rory McIlroy. The day after the Masters ends, golf’s boy king will take on Tiger Woods, who will travel to China from the CIMB Classic in Malaysia, in an 18-hole exhibition that means nothing, and everything. I’ll be there for that, too.
This manufactured drama is a perfect lead-in to the WGC-HSBC Champions, which starts Nov. 1 at Mission Hills in China. This tournament has become one of the premier events of the fall. The FedEx Cup was supposed to bring a more defined off-season, but it has had the opposite effect, freeing the top players to head to Asia and the Middle East to scoop up appearance fees and extend their brands into important new markets.
In the ensuing weeks, the action moves to Singapore, then Hong Kong. McIlroy will be seeking to solidify his No. 1 ranking as well as his place atop the standings of the Euro Tour’s answer to the FedEx Cup, the Race to Dubai. Golf never sleeps.
Meanwhile, the LPGA is enjoying its own Asian swing. On Sunday in Korea, the game’s most impressive physical talent, Suzann Pettersen, won her 14th career tournament, holding off a stellar leaderboard that including a resurgent Yani Tseng and Korean icon Se Ri Pak. This week Tseng returns to her home soil to defend at the Sunrise LPGA Taiwan Championship. Then it’s on to Japan. Golf is a niche sport in the U.S., and the LPGA is a niche of a niche. But in Asia the women are treated like rock stars, and the top players are at least as popular as the best male golfers.
This is the kind of thing that makes my trip to China so overdue -- it’s still golf, but things are just a little different over there. I’m looking forward to seeing it for myself.