Is Finchem leading Tour’s ‘Asian invasion?’

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem congratulates Phil Mickelson after his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions Nov. 8 at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem congratulates Phil Mickelson after his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions Nov. 8 at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China.

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MELBOURNE, Australia – Six months after the PGA Tour officially got involved in the HSBC Champions, commissioner Tim Finchem was front and center at a news conference and later at the TV trophy presentation to Phil Mickelson.

Small wonder some referred to it as the start of the PGA Tour’s “Asian invasion.”

Finchem said his 18-day trip to Asia – part of it a vacation with his wife, Holly – was to meet sponsors and clients he had not visited in some time, and to meet potential customers. Even so, his comments at a Sunday news conference led to one question.

Where will all this lead?

This was the first World Golf Championship in China, even though the PGA Tour does not yet recognize it as official and might not for a few years. Finchem said it “may evolve in the next two or three years.” How that will make a difference remains a mystery unless he’s waiting for more PGA Tour-sanctioned events in Asia.

Finchem said he has been speaking with Zhang Xiaonang, executive vice president of the China Golf Association, about three ways to grow the game – through a First Tee facility in China, by getting the tour involved in building TPC golf courses and helping stage tournaments.

Finchem said Zhang has asked whether the PGA Tour could sanction an event, and that the tour has agreed to work with “other members” of the International Federation of PGA Tours.

That includes European Tour chief executive George O’Grady, who already has established a presence in China and elsewhere in Asia, and the Asian tour, which is battling with OneAsia for support from the China Golf Association.

One thing appeared certain: While the world of golf is larger than ever, it can appear to be shrinking. Three tours (Europe, Asian, United States) indeed can make for a crowd.

• • • 

APPLEBY’S YEAR: Stuart Appleby, who lives in Orlando, Fla., is No. 134 on the money list and could have kept his card by finishing at least 15th at Disney this week in the final PGA Tour event of the year.

Appleby also is from Australia, and he decided against Disney to play at Kingston Heath in the Australian Masters this year.

He said Tuesday it was an easy choice.

“I already had plans for my junior foundation, and Tiger has committed to spend an hour with the kids, which is awesome,” Appleby said. “Plus, I think this is one of the top two courses in the world. I really had more to gain than lose.”

Appleby has not decided whether to use one of his exemptions from the career money list, preferring to save them for later. He said he would let the tour know in two weeks. Appleby might spend 2010 asking for sponsor exemptions, which shouldn’t be too hard to find for an eight-time winner who has not finished lower than 55th on the money list since his rookie season.

As to what happened this year, he isn’t quite sure.

“I think I just fell into some bad habits,” Appleby said. “I forgot about the innocence of playing golf. I spent too much time trying to fix something. It was like a year of the dog chasing his tail.”

• • • 

CADDIE OF THE YEAR: In one of the best evenings in golf, Billy Foster was awarded the “Caddie of the Year” on the European Tour for his work with Lee Westwood on and off the golf course.

It was a festive occasion for the caddies, with lesser awards handed out for such things as best club selection and best excuse. Westwood helped host the evening with Sky Sports commentator Richard Boxall, but perhaps even more impressive was a dozen tour players who stayed well into the evening, such as Padraig Harrington, Paul Casey, and even Americans Nick Watney and Brian Gay.

Foster, who also has caddied for Seve Ballesteros, Darren Clarke and even at a Presidents Cup for Tiger Woods, has been on the bag as Westwood leads the Race to Dubai with two tournaments left. In July, he raised about $130,000 for charity by walking from Loch Lomond to Turnberry with Westwood’s golf bag on his back.

• • • 

OGILVY’S CLUBS: Geoff Ogilvy will be switching over to Titleist for the 2010 season.

Ogilvy’s deal with Cobra expires this year, and parent company Acushnet is moving away from a Cobra presence on tour. Ogilvy, who has won three World Golf Championships and a U.S. Open in the last four years, said it was a sensible move.

“It’s in the family,” he said, noting Titleist also is under the Acushnet umbrella and he would continue playing the ball. “If you’re going to be making a change from one manufacturer to another, that’s the least stressful.”

He said he has been practicing with a new blade from Titleist, and that the only significant change would be the driver.

• • • 

MIA DOWN UNDER: Robert Allenby made history Down Under in 2005 as the only player to win the Australian Triple Crown – victories in the Masters, PGA and Australian Open.

He won’t be able to repeat that this year. The Melbourne native is not playing any of them.

Allenby has played the last three weeks on the European Tour – Spain, Singapore and Shanghai – and needed a week off before the Dubai World Championship. He also decided to play in the Nedbank Challenge in South Africa, opposite the Australian Open.

As for the Australian PGA the following week? Allenby said he needed to spend time with his ailing mother-in-law, although he had problems last year with how the tournament was run.

• • • 

DIVOTS: Steve Marino finished his week in China and headed home to rest before venturing out again. He is playing consecutive weeks in December at the Australian Open and the Australian PGA. “I think it will be cool,” Marino said. “You’ve got to do this while you’re young.” ... The Australian Masters was added to the European tour schedule last month, giving Rod Pampling (No. 71) one last chance to crack into the top 60 and qualify for the Dubai World Championship.

• • • 

STAT OF THE WEEK: Tiger Woods has never finished out of the top 10 in stroke play at the World Golf Championships.

• • •

FINAL WORD: “Getting away from golf is good for you. It gets the grumps out of you.” – Geoff Ogilvy.

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