The head of Asia's biggest golf tour said a proposed alliance with Europe cannot compromise its "independence and identity", apparently ruling out a full-blown merger.
|Asian Tour commissioner Kyi Hla Han said he was encouraged by European Tour victories in the past month by South Korean youngsters Lee Soo-min (pictured) and Wang Jeung-hun in Morocco. (Photo: AFP/Arep Kulal)
HONG KONG: The head of Asia's biggest golf tour said a proposed alliance with Europe cannot compromise its "independence and identity", apparently ruling out a full-blown merger.
Asian Tour commissioner Kyi Hla Han told AFP that his top priority was providing playing opportunities for his players - whether a tie-up went ahead or not.
"The players strongly believe the Asian Tour must retain its independence and identity," Han said in an email interview.
"The primary focus for the Asian Tour is to always ensure we continue to provide our members (players) with playing and earning opportunities as well as a career pathway, with or without partnerships with the other international tours."
The Asian and European bodies had previously talked about merging their playing memberships and business interests, creating a mega-tour with the potential to tilt golf's global landscape.
But Han's responses to AFP appear to rule out a full merger of the two tours, which former Asian Tour CEO Mike Kerr had backed before resigning late last year.
Instead Han talked about a "strategic partnership" with the European Tour to "enhance opportunities" for Asian players and create "a pathway" to global success.
Kerr's stance resulted in deep divisions among players, fearful of a takeover by their European counterparts.
In December, after Kerr's departure, the old Asian Tour board of directors, including former European Tour chief Ken Schofield, was ousted.
Four prominent Asian businessmen were voted in as non-playing directors, three board player members were also removed and Han was promoted from chairman to "interim Tour Commissioner".
The first priority for the new board has been "to establish better communications with our players who are the stakeholders," Han said.
He added, however, that talks with the European Tour were continuing.
"The proposed strategic partnership with the European Tour is meant to enhance playing opportunities for both (tours') members, which will subsequently create greater opportunities for our players to raise their game, ability and mindset and move onto the next level," Han said.
Han said he was encouraged by European Tour victories in the past month by South Korean youngsters Lee Soo-min (Shenzhen International) and Wang Jeung-hun (Hassan Trophy, Morocco).
"They have the potential to be world-class players," said Han, who believes Asia can win a second major soon to add to Y E Yang's 2009 US PGA crown.
"We have the talent and depth in Asian golf to see one of our players win a major championship in the very near future.
"Apart from (Hideki) Matsuyama, Kiradech (Aphibarnrat) and (Anirban) Lahiri, there are other established Asian stars like Thongchai Jaidee, An Byeong-hun and K T Kim all in the world's top 100, capable of contending and winning a major."
Han said that their success was an inspiration, along with Danny Willett's rise from outside the world's top 100 to winning the US Masters in less than 18 months, and Asian Tour order of merit champion Anirban Lahiri's fifth place at the 2015 US PGA.
"Players will realise that these guys are also Asian Tour players and they would start telling themselves, 'If they can do it, so can I,'" Han said.