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The Asian Amateur: Creating Tomorrow's Heroes

It has been my experience that if you want someone to do something, you have to ask them to do so. The creation of the Asian Amateur, played two weeks ago outside Tokyo, is an exception to that rule. 

Alongside the R&A and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, The Masters Tournament conducted the second playing of this regional amateur championship. Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, first had the idea for the Asian Amateur three years ago. And when he gets an idea in his head, he has a knack for seeing it through. Consider that in 1987, at the ripe old age of 40, he decided that Atlanta should host the Olympics. Three years later, the International Olympic committee awarded the 1996 games to Atlanta. Relatively speaking, the Asian Amateur is a piece of cake. 

Payne called Peter Dawson of the R&A after devising his plan, and the ruling body for most of the world was quickly on board. They joined forces with the APGC, and the first event was staged successfully last fall at Mission Hills in China. 

Here is the beauty and the significance of the Asian Amateur: No one asked The Masters to do this. Masters critics always will look for ulterior motives, but there are none here. The goal, simply stated, is to accelerate golf in this region of the world by “creating heroes.” 

This is classic pyramid-of-influence thinking. Create elite players for others to emulate, and they influence others and cause them to take up the game. This is precisely what is happening in Japan today. Ryo Ishikawa, perhaps more popular in Japan than Tiger ever was in America, has created unprecedented interest in golf among young boys. More like Ishikawa are needed throughout Asia, and that is the goal of The Masters in this venture. 

Payne easily could have just written a check; after all, The Masters gives away tons of money each year to worthy recipients. But this was to be different. Payne and Augusta National run a pretty successful tournament each April. He determined the skill set required to do so should be employed to make this tournament successful from the very beginning. That’s why there were a dozen club members on hand last week, plus another dozen or so Augusta National staffers as well. They brought demanding standards to the affair, and it showed. 

Make no mistake about it, this is a big-time amateur tournament, complete with television towers, real-time electronic scoring, fairway ropes and caddies. It is probably the most expensive amateur championship in the world, and it is the most highly viewed, available in 150 million homes worldwide. 

The spoils of victory are quite similar to those of the British and U.S. Amateurs, events the Asian Amateur aspires to be compared to in time. The winner gets a spot in The Masters, and he and the runner-up both get spots in the final qualifying for the Open Championship. Dawson suggested it won’t be long before the winner advances straight to the Open Championship field; first, however, this must become an “open” rather than “closed” event. 

The Masters has its critics in the U.S., but outside America, it is a beacon on a hill. It beckons, it summons. How many times have you heard an international winner of The Masters such as Trevor Immelman or Jose Maria Olazabal say that they stayed up all night to watch Jack or Seve or Tiger win The Masters? The Masters may be the single best-known and respected brand in golf around the world. Just ask those fans who wanted their photos taken with Augusta National members – any member – last week, in their green jackets. 

Some might wonder why The Masters, an American institution, is spending its money in Asia. Payne and Dawson have concluded that there is no growth to be had in the mature markets of the U.K. and U.S. There simply is too much competition for the leisure dollar and leisure hours. In Asia, however, the game is just taking root, and there is, long term, enormous growth potential for golf. Note the phrase long term … this investment will not return dividends any time soon, but it will pay off. And The Masters and R&A guys know this, and are comfortable with this timetable. 

In the end, Payne will tell you, convincingly, that The Masters is simply living up to its obligations … obligations established by founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts many years ago. The Masters wants to serve the game that makes its annual April tournament possible, and it wants to honor the amateur golfer. And in Payne’s mind, the Asian Amateur is simply the latest, but not last, initiative to do so. In 10 years, don’t be surprised if you see this template extended to other parts of the world. 

The Masters will never get the credit it fully deserves for making this event happen. But what it and the R&A accomplished in Tokyo was both impressive and important. On to Singapore in 2011.


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