Stage set for thrilling 3rd EurAsia Cup

Team Asia has a combined total of 58 wins worldwide, with six players still in their 20s, but with wins to their name

By SHIV DAS

Team Asia Boleh! That’s the battle cry Team Asia will take to Team Europe, when the two meet for the third edition of the EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-Hicom Bhd. It’s the biennial battle for continental golf supremacy at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club, Shah Alam, come Jan 12-14, 2018.

It was all fighting talk from non-playing captain Arjun Atwal, 44, as he announced the Asian line-up at a media conference at the same battle-ground that saw the two teams fight it out in 2014 and 2016, with the first ending in shared honours (10-10) and the second, an emphatic European win (18-and-a-half to five-and-a-half).

Revenge was on his mind.

All those who had come up to him when he was in Hong Kong last week saw Team Europe as a “Oh, wow, really strong team” and “I had said, do you expect anything less?

“I am looking forward to meeting their strongest team. I don’t want them to send their B or C team. I want captain (Thomas) Bjorn to bring his A-game with his A-team and for us to go out there and beat them. It’ll be fun, good competition…there’s not going to be any negativity, but pure competition I am looking forward to.”

In the Asian line-up: The current Asian Tour Order of Merit leader, Malaysia’s own Gavin Kyle Green, “our star player, just 23 years old, who hits it further than anyone else in the whole field”.

Shiv Shankar Prasad Chawrasia, a player from Atwal’s own hometown, Calcutta. “He’s my bulldog, he’s going to go out there and fight, fight.”

Phachara Khongwatmai (Thailand): “He’s only 18 and he’ll be a force to reckon with. He’s got no fear in his body and I like that.”

Poon Saksansin (Thailand): “He’s like Fred Funk (American player). He doesn’t do anything bad…he hits down the middle, on the green, makes a lot of putts. It’s the kind of player I need on my team.”

Yuta Ikeda (Japan): “He’s ranked 37th in the world, obviously a big star in Japan, he’s awesome, no weakness in his game.”

Li Hao Tong (China): “Twenty-two years old. Young gun. No fear. You saw what he did in the British Open this year (he was third). I like that kind of firepower and really look for- ward to him playing on my team.”

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand): “I don’t need to tell you about him. Everybody knows what he’s capable of. Long hitter, aggressive, perfect for match play.”

Anirban Lahiri, (India, Asian Tour No 1, 2015): “I have played a lot of golf with him…been kind of his mentor, but he may not want to admit it. (Laughter). He’s played in the last two editions of the Cup. He knows what he’s doing. He will be kind of a team leader as well, for some of the rookies out there and the young guns.”

Hideto Tanihara (Japan): “He’s played on all of the big stages in the world and he’ll be a force to reckon with.”

Kang Sung-Hoon (Korea), one of the captain’s picks: “Another tenacious player, He’s very excited about being in the team. I picked him, because he’s really in great form… one of the hottest players in the world.”

An Byeong-Hun (Korea): “He hits it very long. He’s won in Wentworth, flagship tournament on the European Tour.”

Nicholas Fung (Malaysia), another captain’s pick: “I had a couple of choices given by Tun (Ahmad) Sarji Abdul Hamid (chairman of Professional Golf of Malaysia). Both good, strong players, but in the end I chose Fung. He won earlier this year on the Asian Tour and has proven himself to be a really good match-play player. In the last EurAsia match, he won us some points.”

Team Asia has a combined total of 58 wins worldwide, with six players still in their 20s, but with wins to their name. Seven were ranked inside the Top-100 in world ranking and underlined team strength.

Atwal has picked China’s Zhang Lian-Wei as vice-captain.

Green and Chawrasia sent video messages relayed at the team naming and media gathering, stating how upbeat they were in wanting to take the fight to the Europeans and win. Chawrasia quipped with a smile: “I don’t think they are strong, we are strong.” It underlined the team’s fighting spirit.

In outlining his strategy, Atwal said he would be asking the players for their pairing preferences first. He was going to put four players each in a pod and they would be playing matches together in the run-up to the event.

Mindsets have to be changed for match play, different from stroke play, which the players were used to. They could interchange to ensure the best fit in the end.

Atwal said he wasn’t going to look back to past performances. His message to his players: “If we make the putts, and my team are really good putters, we can win.” Putting, to him, was what counted in match play in the end. He didn’t want to look at the past and at anything negative.

As a first-time captain, what was he using as a guide? “I have this thing inside me, I just want to win. That’s my guide. I’ve always been like that. It’s going to be the thought for every member of my team, that we are going to win.”

He wanted the fans to come out in force to support his team, because it was not like in stroke play, where it was individuals they would be rooting for.

In the locker room before play, what would he be telling the players? “Go win. Everyone has their task.”

Ahmad Sarji, who’s credited with mooting the match-play event, much like the well-established Ryder Cup between the US and Europe, speaking on the side, said he had taken Atwal to see the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak and Najib was most pleased to see him, more so after the prime minister had seen Bjorn, the European Team captain, last month.

Najib is familiar with all the Asian players’ names and he is looking forward to a thrilling encounter.

Team Europe is made up of Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Paul Casey, Paul Dunne, Ross Fisher, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Alex Levy, Alex Noren, Thomas Pieters, Henrik Stenson and Bernd Wiesberger.

The event will feature 24 matches, with day one showcasing six Fourball matches, followed by six Foursomes matches and 12 Singles matches on day three.

There’s a gleaming Kelantan silver trophy to play for. The winning team will take home US$300,000 (RM1.23 million) each and the losing team, US$100,000 each.

But, its pride that’s really at stake.