Rónán MacNamara in Oman
Asian Tour Commissioner Cho Minn Thant strolls into the Rules Office overlooking the pristine Indian Ocean at the International Series Oman in Al Mouj GC with a beaming smile on his face mixed with a devilish look in his eye.
“There are a lot of lost balls,” he chuckles in his assessment of how the morning session of round one has gone with just 10 players under-par at the time.
Oman is playing host to the likes of Sergio García, Brooks Koepka, Louis Oosthuizen, Joaquin Niemann and Graeme McDowell as the LIV contingent use the Asian Tour’s International Series as preparation for the new LIV season at the end of the month, with Cho visibly delighted to have a host of former world number ones and major winners at the opening event of the series.
Cho still harbours hopes that the Asian Tour can get back into bed with the DP World Tour but admits the ongoing power struggle in the world of golf might have made the relationship untenable.
While the International Series kicks off in Oman, the DP World Tour hosts an event in Singapore – without inviting any Asian Tour players – as part of an Asian swing that includes Thailand and India before a spring stint in Japan and Korea.
He finds Keith Pelley’s sudden burst of interest in Asia surprising considering he didn’t feel that enthusiasm was shared when the Asian Tour was co-sanctioned with the DP World Tour in the past, something which doesn’t augur well for the future.
“I’d like to think so [get involved with DP World Tour] but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon! At the moment it’s too polarised,” explains Cho. “This week they are playing in Asia without any Asian players. I think it is a long way back for us to join forces. Not impossible, I would like to see it happen.
“It’s interesting that the European Tour has quite a big focus on Asia now, they are doing Singapore, Thailand, India, Korea and Japan as well. We were in a partnership for over five years with them and they didn’t show that much interest in Asia. Now we are not in a partnership with them and they have a huge interest in Asia, it’s very strange.
“When we had co-sanctioned events with the European Tour, they always had four or five in Asia and we were lucky to get a tiny bit of the field in Switzerland for four or five years. Historically it’s always been European Tour coming to Asia and doing their co-sanctioned events in Asia. Now they are doing five or six tournaments in Asia and we are doing one in Europe. Europe is not our focus but is nice to have because the sponsor in the UK wants us there.”
Cho has held many positions within the Asian Tour since joining in 2007 after a very successful amateur career. He assumed the role of COO in 2016 before being promoted to CEO in 2019. Having dragged the Asian Tour from its knees during the pandemic with the announcement of the ‘International Series’ twelve months ago, a $300 million investment is now set to take the tour to the next level.
“I’m very open about what the Asian Tour is doing and our position in golf and where the funding is coming from,” he says. “We haven’t been privy to a lot of the meetings that the PGA Tour and European Tour have had with other tours and we don’t expect to be included in those discussions but there hasn’t been any talk with us.
“I think those two organisations and maybe several others see us as part of LIV rightly or wrongly, the beef that the PGA Tour and European Tour have with LIV has passed along to their relationship with the Asian Tour. It’s unfortunate because we would like to think we are two separate organisations. We get funding from PIF but we are our own organisation so it is unfortunate we are lumped in the same basket. We have no shame in mentioning we are partners with LIV and it has improved our tour, we have no reason to be against LIV, we support them.
“Our relationship with the PGA Tour and European Tour is not as great as it was before. Other tours like Australia, South Africa, Korea and Japan have worked out partnerships with the PGA Tour but it doesn’t effect us, we can still work with Australia and South Africa, we are doing our own thing.”
While the DP World Tour and PGA Tours have taken umbrage with the Asian Tour’s association with LIV Golf, one of the game’s rising and shining stars Tom Kim, is a product of the Asian Tour having won the 2020-21-22 Order of Merit. However, Kim was not invited to the subsequent Open Championship in St Andrews which Cho found to be disrespectful form the R&A but feels Martin Slumbers’ blushes were spared by virtue of Kim managing to qualify via his performances.
“Sure, absolutely [disrespectful] the growth of the Asian Tour it’s hard to deny that the winner of the Order of Merit is valuable to a major championship,” he adds.
“The R&A have full discretion over the field at the Open Championship so they decided that they didn’t want to do it last year and we had to accept it. To the R&A’s credit they still kept the Open Championship qualifying spots for us last year in Singapore, Korea, Japan and New Zealand as well. They make the decision on it.
“It would have been unfortunate last year because our Order of Merit winner was Tom Kim and he qualified last year, but had he not you are quite clearly cutting out the best player in Asia.”
As the Indian Ocean waves crash against the chalky white rocks, it is clear that Cho wants to make his own waves and give the Asian Tour a major platform in the world of golf.
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