OCTOBER 7 — The PGA Tour’s annual Asian swing will be unlike any other this month as golf’s reimagined year sees two of the region’s most prestigious tournaments make a detour from the Far East to the West Coast of the United States. And sports fans and viewers are in for a super treat as both events will showcase the best fields, world-class golf entertainment and provide Asia’s rising stars the platform to sparkle on the big stage.

The CJ Cup and Zozo Championship, showpieces events for the PGA Tourin South Korea and Japan respectively, will this time be played at Shadow Creek in Vegas, Nevada and Sherwood Country Club in Thousand Oaks, California — both highly acclaimed venues whose stature fit hand in glove with Asia’s flagship tournaments.

Owing to logistical challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, title sponsors CJ Group and Zozo Inc. deserve the plaudits for taking this big leap to America. The Asian-based tournaments were launched in 2017 and 2019 respectively to support the development of golf in their home countries and across Asia, dubbed the fastest growing market in golf.

While the stars of the game will miss Asia’s renowned hospitality, sumptuous food, diverse culture and fans, the tournaments will not miss a heart beat in boasting stellar fields that will feature the PGA Tour’s Who’s Who.

Reigning FedExCup champion Dustin Johnson, World No. 2 Jon Rahm, CJ CUP title holder Justin Thomas, 18-time PGA TOUR winner Rory McIlroy and young gun Collin Morikawa, who are the current top-five ranked golfers in the world, will feature in both tournaments. In addition, golf legend Tiger Woods will chase down more history by gunning for an unprecedented win No. 83 when he defends his Zozo Championship title at Sherwood, coincidentally a venue which he knows like the back of his palm with he five times previously.

A trip to Shadow Creek, a Tom Fazio masterpiece owned by MGM Resorts International, will no doubt provide the 27-year-old Thomas with a different kind of challenge in his CJ Cup defence against a stellar field which will include 2018 champion, Brooks Koepka, who will make a return from injury after being on the sidelines for two months.

“The CJ Cup quickly became one of my favourite events on Tour. While winning twice certainly helped, the hospitality shown to us by CJ Group and the Korean community has made the tournament special to all of us as PGA TOUR players,” said Thomas. “It’s unfortunate we won’t be able to travel to Korea, but it is fantastic we will still be able to shine a light on CJ Group through the tournament at a venue like Shadow Creek.”  

Although the venue will be different and the tournament name rebranded to The CJ Cup @ Shadow Creek for this year only, everything else should remain intact from October 15-18, and CJ has ensured there is an abundant supply of its famed bibigo and Korean food for players at Shadow Creek.

Long-hitting Johnson will make his debut in both events, fresh from winning his first FedExCup crown after a brilliant run of form which saw him win twice and finish runner-up twice in a four-tournament stretch at the end of last season. “… should be two great weeks of golf. My game has been really good recently, so I am excited to play both tournaments,” he said.

McIlroy will also be on a mission to secure a first win in 2020. “I’ve watched how the tournament (CJ Cup) has become a success over the past few years and it’ll be exciting to have the opportunity to compete in it for the first time. I had a great time at the inaugural Zozo Championship (finishing joint third) and will be hoping to build on last year’s success when we play at Sherwood. I’ll miss playing in Japan this year but hopefully, we’ll get to return soon.”

Some of Asia’s upcoming talents will rub shoulders with the game’s elite in this reimagined Asian swing. Korea’s 18-year-old Joohyung Kim, who has already won three times on the Asian Development Tour and once on the Asian Tour, has been touted as a rising star. He featured in two PGA TOUR events recently at the Safeway Open and Corales Puntacana Club & Resort Championship, finishing T67 and T33.

Kim, who will feature in The CJ Cup, isn’t shy to reveal his career goals. “I really would love to be World No. 1 … win all four majors, be in the Golf Hall of Fame, just those big things I always would love to achieve. I've had that mindset ever since I started playing golf, so it's always with me,” said the teenager.

All eyes will also be on Japan’s 22-year-old Takumi Kanaya, who was No. 1 on the World Amateur Golf ranking and winner of the 2020 McCormark Medal. He recently turned professional and will feature in the Zozo Championship, slated from October 22-25, through a sponsor exemption.

It will certainly be a very different looking Asian swing this year but the players, fans and viewers can expect only the very best when the PGA TOUR bandwagon rolls into Shadow Creek and Sherwood this month.

* Chuah Choo Chiang is senior director, International Marketing and Communications, APAC, of the PGA Tour and is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

** This is the personal opinion of the columnist.