News & Opinion

PGA Tour looks east for riches of Asia Swing

With nearly $30 million up for grabs over 3 weeks, world’s elite players pack their bags to create must-see golf TV

The Asia Swing has become a Thing. I didn’t see that coming.

Money talks, and when it does, the sharps at the PGA Tour listen.

You might be wondering, as a fan and not a cynical media observer such as myself, why the PGA Tour needs tournaments in South Korea last week (CJ Cup), Japan this week (Zozo Championship) and China next week (HSBC Champions, a World Golf Championships event).

Tiger Woods attracts fans of all stripes to the 2019 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, and his presence in Japan this week will boost the Zozo Championship and the fall's Asia Swing.

This should clarify things: The purses for the three events are, respectively, $9.75 million, $9.75 million and $10.25 million. That’s nearly $30 million in three weeks. Suddenly, the $50 million FedEx Cup payroll seems a little less gigantic than it did back in August.

Did I say that money talks? In the new Asia Swing, it shouts.

One thing that players like more than overseas frequent-flier miles is money (and, of course, the accompanying world-ranking points). The money is even better if it’s guaranteed. None of the Asia Swing tournaments has a cut. So, it’s the next best thing to appearance money.

Scott Piercy finished 75th in the CJ Cup, next to last, and won $16,380, a modest stipend that should have covered his expenses. The big money was being thrown around in buckets higher up. Charles Howell III was among those who tied for 20th and took home $103,000 and change.

Money is good. It is what professional golf lives on. That is why the PGA Tour is in Asia now, not because of some goodwill mission.

PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan described it thusly: “The PGA Tour is a global organization. We’ve got a global membership, and we are an important part of a global sport.”

Commissioner, Jay Monahan
In the distance debate, Jay Monahan is facing perhaps his biggest issue as PGA Tour commissioner.

I believe Monahan is the right guy for that job. He knows what he’s doing. But the PGA Tour goes where the money is, and there’s too much to ignore in Asia. Thus, the Tour moves in on the Far East (even though it’s the Far West for us).

This raises another inconvenient truth about pro golf. The world’s top pro tours – PGA, European, Japan, Korea, PGA Tour of Australasia and South Africa’s Sunshine Tour – are in competition with one another. Just as every tournament sponsor on a tour is in competition with every other tournament sponsor to attract golf’s top names.

So, there’s big money in Asia? The PGA Tour locked some of it down to make sure it didn’t go to, say, its not-nearly-as-lucrative rival European Tour, which already has a massive global footprint with stops in Hong Kong, China, Australia, India, Turkey, the Middle East, Mauritius and South Africa, to name a few.

The money helps make the Asia Swing the third most significant swing on the PGA Tour. At the top, there’s the West Coast Swing, starting with the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii at the start of the year and running through the Genesis Open. It offers seven tournaments with $51.9 million in prize money, featuring traditional stops at Torrey Pines, Phoenix, Pebble Beach and Riviera.

The Florida Swing is next, with the Honda Classic, Arnold Palmer Invitational, Players Championship and the Valspar Championship – four events, $35.7 million prize money. These are the tournaments that build to the Masters in April and get frosted Northern viewers fired up about springtime and golf.

Behind the Asia Swing is a swing that really isn’t one anymore, the Texas Swing. It has been split up into pieces that don’t go together. The Houston Open, for instance, moved to October. The Valero Texas Open in San Antonio will be played in April, before the Masters. The AT&T Byron Nelson in Dallas and the Charles Schwab Challenge in Fort Worth are in May, on either side of the PGA Championship at San Francisco’s Harding Park.

None of the four Texas events is played consecutively, so this year, at least, the Texas Swing has fallen like the Alamo. But please, “Remember the Texas Swing!” should not become a battle cry.

The big winner of the Battle of the Swings is this week’s inaugural Zozo Championship in Japan. It held a Skins Game event with Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama on Monday. Day went home with $210,000 from the show. In a stunning coincidence, all four are playing the Zozo Championship. Landing Woods is a coup for any tournament.

The Zozo is new, the CJ Cup is only 3 years old and the HSBC in China is just as dull as the other WGC events. I’d argue that any idea of a World Tour is a bad one because, as the Asia Swing proves, the farther a tournament gets from its home audience, the less it matters. Out of sight, out of mind. The LPGA, with all of its overseas events, battles that on a regular basis.

That said, let’s get to the best thing about the Asia Swing: live televised golf in prime time. Evening golf telecasts from Hawaii when the PGA Tour season picks up in January always are enjoyable because they’re better than bad sitcom programming on the other networks, and the waving palm trees and ocean views help us forget the miserable weather on much of the mainland. The biggest reason I don’t watch golf during the summer is that I’m outside doing something else, such as playing golf. So, I look forward to prime-time golf.

You had to be a night owl to watch the CJ Cup. It didn’t start on Golf Channel at 10 p.m., but that’s a cool viewing niche for golf fans. (The Zozo Championship begins at 11 p.m. EDT Wednesday and Thursday on Golf Channel, by the way, and 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.)

The Asia Swing is a Thing now. Even though I said earlier that these tournaments don’t feel relevant or important … I will be watching.

It’s golf, isn’t it?