04/28/2014

Tournament Recap

The Zurich Classic of New Orleans featured birdies galore all week– that is, until the Sunday wins kicked up. Once those winds swept across the TPC Louisiana, scores began to balloon. Birdies weren’t as common to come by (except for Robert Garrigus) and bogies re-introduced themselves to the scorecards. It turned into a game of survival, ultimately survived by Korean 23-year old, Seung-Yul Noh.

What’s the deal with players born in the 1990s winning on the PGA Tour? Seung-Yul Noh, a 1991 birthday, jumped close to 100 places in the Official World Golf Rankings to 88th after his win in Louisiana. The talent of the young in golf is unlike we’ve ever seen. There are more than a handful of players born 1989 and later which are winning and Seung-Yul Noh has added his hyphenated name to the list.

The joke with Noh for a while, has been “Soon You’ll Know, about Seung-Yul Noh.” He’s been a talent for a time now, but has yet to breakthrough. The Zurich Classic has been home to players winning their first Tour events for 7 of the last 11 years.

After looking at his performance statistics, past results in Tour events (especially recently) and watching on repeat his exceptional golf swing on YouTube, it surprises me how little known Noh is. Aside from a W/D at the Shell, he hasn’t missed a CUT on Tour this season. He’s a 68/69 machine. In 2012, as a 20-year old, he made over $1.5 million on Tour with 24 cuts made in 28 events. For a young player, in a new nation, battling a language barrier, chaotic travel and pressure of world-class golf– for him to make 85% of his cuts is beyond noteworthy. But it didn’t garner much note.

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What Noh’s Win Meant (Or Didn’t Mean)

All of this gets me thinking about the marketability of Asian talents stateside. We know the names Ryo Ishikawa, Hideki Matsuyama (shout out to our fans in Japan) among others (Bae, Noh, Choi, Yang etc), but why haven’t more grabbed a foothold on the American viewing public. K.J. Choi is a widely popular player, especially among his peers, because of his demeanor on the course and humanitarian efforts off it, but outside Choi not many Asian players are well-known players. Few are top ranked players.

When Y.E. Yang beat Tiger Woods in ’09 at the PGA Championship, the Pro at my hometown home course sarcastically said, “You guys are privileged to be growing up in Y.E. Yang era.” He knew Yang’s temporary triumph probably wouldn’t lead to long-term dominance. Yang wasn’t about to make massive movements towards game growth and popularity. Among Tiger fans and golf fans, Yang felt like a villain. An underdog, an unknown champion who took down the world’s best player through grit and determination, but viewed as a ‘bad guy’. He beat our Tiger. It was only months after, Tiger beat himself off his glorious perch.

The LPGA has taken a stance with Asian golfers, requiring them to learn the English language as part of their status requirements. Some yelled racism, I yelled opportunity. Without an ability to connect with fan bases, these players are only hindering the sport in which they are stealing dollars from. As the game gives, players are called to give back. Without an ability to connect and communicate, giving back is near impossible. By ‘forcing’ them to learn English, the Tour opened up countless opportunities off the course as well, through marketing campaigns, sponsorship dollars and potential advertisement placing.

Now Noh knows English, although it could still use some work. And his talent on the course was even more impressive. I would like to see what can be done to help market these foreign born guys and create an atmosphere around them which can be embraced, celebrated and admired.

For the good of the game.

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