Should there be a 5th Major in Asia?

By Nick Bonfield

Lee Westwood made the headlines earlier this week, stating that he feels there should be a 5th major on the men’s golfing calendar: “I like the tradition of the majors. I think the men’s game has got it pretty much right, although I’d like to see another major somewhere else in the world. Somewhere like Asia or Australia.”

Westwood raises an interesting point. Asian golf has really taken off over the last decade or so, both in the women’s and men’s game. When we think of Asian golfers, the first thing that comes to mind is Y.E.Yang, and his incredible battle with Tiger Woods at the 2009 PGA Championship, culminating in a miraculous rescue club approach to the final hole, a shot that Rob Lee described as “the best I’ve ever seen.” A simple glance at the ladies Rolex Rankings shows an astonishing 5 Asian women in the top 10. KJ Choi’s victory at this year’s Players Championship, and his army of supporters, aptly named ‘Choi’s Boys’, highlighted both the immense skill and popularity of those Asian golfers making a name for themselves outside of their native lands. Asian golf is going from strength to strength. When we consider the rich pool of potential talent, the current crop of world class golfers, and the economic viability of hosting an event in Asia, it surely can’t be long before speculation and debate translate to reality.

But what are the barriers preventing the implementation of a 5th major in Asia, and are the prospective benefits enough to persuade senior officials to consider such an eventuality? Could one of the existing majors, namely the Masters or the PGA Championship, be scrapped in favour of an event in Asia?

Globalisation and internationalisation have had an enormous impact on the game of golf. You only need to look at the strengths of the Tours in places such as Japan and South Africa. The Sunshine Tour has produced some great players, namely 2011 Masters winner Charl Schwartzel, and the Japan Golf Tour boasts players such as Shingo Katayama and teenage phenomenon Ryo Ishikawa. World famous names, from McIlroy to Westwood on the European Tour, to Mickelson and Woods on the PGA Tour, have professed their love of playing in Asia, and their astonishment at the level of knowledge and support in the East. The trend continues. Only last week, Rickie Fowler won his first professional title out in South Korea.

I find it hard to believe that many players would be opposed to another major outside the United States. Golf is truly a global sport, and the current location of the majors does not reflect, in any way, the geographical spread of the game across the globe. That is before we take into account sponsorship, economics, and the enormous populations of the Asian countries. Imagine, if you will, the year 2015. Tiger Woods, back to his best, has prevailed at the inaugural  Asian Open, an event that has been a spectacular success and advert for the sport in the Far East. A major in Asia would have the potential to inspire, and capture the interest of a new generation of prospective golfers, impacting upon both the excitement of the global game and the consumption of the sport. Perhaps a rolling fifth major is the solution, going from Asia to Australasia to South Africa, whilst at the same time filling the gargantuan seven month void left between the PGA Championship in August and the Masters in April.

The obvious rebuttal comes with discussion of tradition, something that arguably has a higher prominence in golf than in any other sport. The four majors have been in place for over half a century, and as such, any potential change to the format and inclusion of a fifth, would warrant much deliberation. However, the recent addition of a World Golf Championship event in China leads one to infer that it might be a thought currently being entertained. It is essential that we maintain tradition, but tradition must not be allowed to stand in the way of evolution and natural progression. Sometimes, breaking the mould is needed to stimulate development. What would have happened to the Open Championship had Arnold Palmer not crossed the pond to take part in 1961? A major in Asia needs to be seriously considered, planned and implemented. Recent changes in the nature of the game need to be acknowledged, and we must be adaptable. To keep the same major championship structure would be to neglect the developing golfing world, a world with limitless potential that, if properly harnessed, could do wonders for the sport.

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