Asian Men Scarce on PGA Tour
Most of us who follow the LPGA can rattle off a lot of names, golfers who either hail from an Asian country, or who live in the West, but are of Asian descent – Shanshan Feng, Christina Kim, So Yeon Ryu, Grace Park, Chella Choi, Birdie Kim, Ilhee Lee, Meena Lee, the Myiazato sisters, Ai and Mika, etc. And there are a lot more where those came from. Some of these players are interwoven into our western golf conciousness, so in a sense, they “belong” to us, at least in our golfing lives.
I noticed, however, as the third round of the HSBC Champions came to a close yesterday, that Graeme McDowell, who led by a shot, mentioned that he was entirely unfamiliar with one of the men chasing him at one stroke behind, Hiroshi Iwata – “No disrespect, but genuinely never heard of him.” Iwata is playing very well, and discussed the possibility of winning with some caveats, saying that he is generally calm, but famous in Japan for his temper, suggesting that he might get a little weird on us if he’s in a position to take over. I enjoyed that – getting weird on us is a good way to become iconic. It worked for Bubba Watson. Of course, there was that “winning the Masters and a few other events” things as well.
Following that tournament made me begin to wonder if there are men of Asian descent on the PGA tour that are similarly interwoven into our awareness when the major events of the year roll around. Certainly, they exist, but who is iconic among the Asian men?
I started searching for lists of prominent male Asian golfers, and found them, but none of them rang a huge bell of familiarity. It’s as though the women got together, mutually perfected their game, then came to the West as a team. I know that’s not true, but it seems that way sometimes.
I thought back to earlier PGA days, and recalled a few men, with Jumbo Osaki sticking out particularly in my memory. Jumbo was fun, and I believe, played in 19 Masters, among other major and minor events. That perked my interest, so I looked him up to see what he’s doing lately. Surprisingly, he’s still playing on the Japanese tour in his late 60s, and recently shot a 62 – doing very well, thank you.
But still, where is that man who will capture our fascination, someone we look for every week? Where is the male Asian golfer who will make the turn into the 4th round, and cause us to say “Oh oh, here he comes again?” Where’s Mr. Shanshan, Mr. Tseng. Mr. Miyazato?
I don’t know any of the answers as to why Asian women have participated so successfully in the West, and why we don’t know so many of the men. I do have questions, though. Do the men not play as well, and if not, why? Has there not been a national effort to get the men going as a force, in the way there has been for the women? Do they not want to travel as much, preferring to stick with their home countries’ tours? Are they less interested? Is the itinerary for the women to travel the world practising their craft a particularly cherished opportunity for personal freedom and growth, outside of more traditional structures, and are men more prone to be “lone wolves,” and less of a golfing community?
With the rise in prestige of the European tours, for both men and women, perhaps the West has less draw these days, although young aspiring golfers from abroad still fill the university programs. And yet, for most countries, male and female golfers have recognizable names in the West, from Australia to Britain, Mexico, and Argentina. I wish that someone would give an opinion on these questions – they are not merely rhetorical, Â I’d love to know who and where these guys are, and when they’ll arrive.