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Asian Influence on Tour

Next month’s HSBC Champions event in China represents an open road for the PGA Tour, which has deemed the tournament “official” and accorded it World Golf Championshipstatus after last year’s successful test drive. Make no mistake, Camp Ponte Vedra looks at Asia as a lightly occupied gold mine, an untapped commodity where money grows on trees and growth justifies the distance. Win, lose or draw, perception tells us bigger is better, especially when we’re talking about Tour pros and dollar signs.

In early August, I received a series of texts from a veteran player who said the practice range was abuzz that week over talk that the 2013 regular season would begin in Shanghai in November 2012. The player went on to say that most of the reaction among his peers was negative, which wasn't a surprise. On any concept requiring change, at least half the Tour reflexively despises the notion.

I would speak to three of the four players on the Tour’s Policy Board, each of whom had a different take on the possibility of Asian expansion. One said the project wasn’t even close to realization. Another completely downplayed it, saying there were more pressing problems involving title sponsorship at existing events (Kapalua, Hilton Head). The third kind of chuckled when I mentioned the Shanghai factor. “I can’t imagine very many of our guys would be interested,” he said, a sentiment that qualifies as a negative-safe version of the company line.

The gung-ho level of those who reside in the Tour’s middle class, however, is of little consequence here. Camp Ponte Vedra makes decisions with the big picture in mind – what it thinks is best for the entire constituency, which causes a bit of awkwardness in a league where one guy has been driving the bus for 14 years. The Dude in the Red Shirt has been playing in Asia for almost as long, owing to his mother’s Thai heritage, so there’s no boardroom conflict in this case. When Tiger Woods is in the field, everybody else can stay home, for all anyone else cares.

There is a kicker. If the Tour could implement its grand plan sooner instead of later, it would begin the new season with at least three events in Asia, perhaps four or five, then take a few weeks off around the holidays before restarting in mid-January. The alarming decline of the current season-opener in Hawaii has become a problem – when you stage an event solely for tournament winners, you would like the tournament winners to show up. Anything less is less than ideal, and when you have no chance of luring Woods into playing, which definitely is the case at Kapalua, you’re a sitting duck on a pond full of piranhas.

If Asia wants premium-field pro golf, Asia will get premium-field pro golf. In this economy – or any economy for that matter – you don’t walk away from the prospect of good business just because a couple of employees don’t like the commute.