By Steve Keating
ST ANDREWS, Scotland (Reuters) – The Asian Tour will reap the benefits of an acrimonious feud between the PGA and DP World Tours and the rebel LIV Golf Series as golfers from the breakaway Saudi-backed venture look to the Far East for tournaments and ranking points.
The Asian Tour, with an infusion of Saudi Arabian cash and a new international series of tournaments, is waiting with open arms to welcome the defectors banished from playing on the established U.S. and European Tours for signing on with the insurgent LIV operation, Asian Tour CEO Cho Minn Thant told Reuters.
LIV will pour $400 million into the Asian Tour according to Cho, which will underwrite the international series and drive up purses from, in some cases $750,000, to $1.5 million or $2 million.
But it is ranking points not money that will be the attraction for the LIV’s most prominent names such as major winners Phil Mickelson, Bryson Dechambeau, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, who were paid fortunes just to sign on with the controversial newcomers.
“They’ve certainly got a place to play on the Asian Tour, the international series in particular,” Cho told Reuters. “Now that they have temporarily left the PGA Tour they’ll be looking to play more events on the Asian Tour to keep their rankings up.
“I foresee a lot of them coming together as a group to play multiple Asian Tour events because power in numbers, the more players inside the top 100 that come to play the higher the strength of field.”
With just eight tournaments on the LIV schedule this season and super-sized purses of $40 million at each event players will have plenty of money and time.
What the LIV Series cannot offer yet are ranking points, the currency that allows entry into golf’s biggest events, the four majors — the Masters, British Open, U.S. Open and PGA Championship.
“Anything we sanction and counts on our order of merit gets world ranking points,” explained Cho. “So any of international series events we do with LIV sanctioned by the Asian Tour carries world ranking points.
“A lot of players have identified the window between November and January and that is perfect for us it is either the very end of our season or the start.
“It suddenly makes us a lot more attractive to sponsors.”
Describing himself as a mostly anonymous figure, Cho laughed as he admitted to a sudden surge in popularity, offering waves and smiles to passersby at the St Andrews’ Old Course while enjoying a coffee alongside the first fairway.
The notoriety is understandable.
Along with an increase in prize money, Asian Tour players have been guaranteed up to eight of the 48 coveted spots in 48-man fields at LIV events this season with some of golf’s biggest draw cards heading to Asia to the delight of sponsors, promoters and fans.
Cho has been in demand ahead of the British Open at St Andrews this week, running to a string of meetings, including one on Tuesday with the Official World Golf Ranking.
“About 18-months ago there was a proposal from the PGA Tour through the DP Tour and we evaluated that against the Saudi proposal,” said Cho, swatting aside concerns about entering an alliance with a LIV Series that has been accused of being a ‘sportwashing’ vehicle for a country looking to improve its image in the face of criticism of its human rights record.
“We decided to go with the Saudi proposal and since then there hasn’t been much talk.
“My job is to look after the members of the Asian Tour and we’ve done what’s right.”
(Reporting by Steve Keating in St Andrews. Editing by Toby Davis)