Is it just me, or have you noticed an increasing number of international players who are rising to the surface of big tournaments? We all know the big names that have been with us for some time, but each year seems to bring more.
I highlighted Kiradech Aphibarnrat from Thailand in my coverage of the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur where he finished T3 and more recently in the World Cup of Golf where he finished T5:
And one final note on a new player who has emerged from his native Thailand and become a routine factor on the international stage, the aforementioned Aphibarnrat. He first came to the attention of American fans with his T3 finish in the CIMB Classic at the Kuala Lumpur Golf Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. But it was not a fluke. In March of 2013 he won the Malaysian Open on the same golf course.
At 5′ 8″ and 230 pounds, he isn’t molded in the chiseled image of the modern-day Tour player, but that obviously doesn’t seem to matter for now. He is the poster boy for “all that matters is can you get it in the hole.”
Because he finished top 10 in the CIMB, he was automatically exempt into the next week’s PGA Tour event. After the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, that would have been the McGladrey Classic in Sea Island, Georgia. But he was not in that field, presumably because of the distance he would have to come and the fact that he was in the World Cup. I am not sure you can bank an exemption like that — probably not — but it’s pretty evident that we’ll be seeing more of him in the near future; yet another of golf’s great stories.
And no sooner did we digest this outlier as one of golf”s great stories, along comes another one in Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama. Scanning my Twitter feed I came across a tweet from Golf World steering readers to this post announcing that Matsuyama had just won the Japan Tour’s money title.
It caused me to stop for a second because his name came up earlier in the PGA Tour’s year. He played in the U.S. Open where he finished T10. He also finished T6 in the British Open and T19 in the PGA Championship. He was also a ball striking stalwart for the International Team in the Presidents Cup down in Melbourne.
He did not play the minimum number of rounds to be ranked in the Tour’s stats, but if he had, he would have been ranked 1st in Driving Distance at 317.8 yards and 2nd in the All Around Ranking.
In an obscure but very significant fact, we learn that Matsuyama finished in the top 125 of the FedExCup points and money list as a non-member, thus making him fully exempt on the Tour for the 2013 – 2014 season. He plans to take up Tour membership for this season.
But the most startling fact that came up in Golf World’s post was that Matsuyama was a rookie on the Japan Tour. He somehow managed to win five tournaments and more than $2 million. Where do these kids keep coming from?
It seems we’ll be able to find out more about that over the course of the coming PGA Tour season.