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Asian Tour CEO, Cho Minn Thant, has admitted his "surprise" after the R&A revoked its exemption into the 150th Open Championship for the winner of the Asian Tour Order of Merit.
Speaking in an exclusive with Golf Monthly at the Asian Tour International Series event at Slaley Hall, Thant said: "That was very surprising because we’ve had that exemption for our Order of Merit winner over the last, I would say, over 15 years and it was something that our players really looked towards at the end of each year.
"When the Order of Merit champion was crowned it was ‘Yes I’m going to The Open, I’ve punched my ticket.’ They informed us of that I would say three weeks before the end of our Order of Merit so that was a surprise."
The R&A revoked the exemption for the Order of Merit winner however, it retained qualifying spots at the Singapore Open, the Korea Open, Diamond Cup and New Zealand Open - which was sadly cancelled as a result of Covid-19. Fortunately, the winner of the Order of Merit will not be missing out on the prestigious honour of teeing it up at St Andrews.
"It would have been more disappointing had our Order of Merit champion Joo Hyung Kim not managed to qualify via the Singapore Open but he did it the hard way and got in," Thant confirmed.
The R&A revoked the exemption for the Asian Tour Order of Merit winner following the introduction of the International Series - a collection of Asian Tour events across Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Middle East and then China, Singapore and Hong Kong.
Like the LIV Golf Invitational Series, the International Series is financially backed by LIV Golf Investments and subsequently, the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund; one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds. Assets included, it is said to be worth in excess of $620 billion.
Despite no longer authorising entry to the Open Championship via the Order of Merit, the relationship between the Asian Tour and R&A remains positive. "I would say that our relationship with the R&A is still pretty good," Thant said. "We’re still an affiliate of the R&A which means we get support from them and we work very closely with them on development in Asia. We’ve still been invited to the Open Championship, they’ve still given us all the hospitality and all the guest passes and invitations to all the functions at the Open Championship as well, so from that standpoint, it’s absolutely as normal.
"It was just that particular spot that was taken away, and whilst on the flip side, the USGA added a spot to the US Open for the Asian Tour’s Order of Merit champion, and the PGA of America added spots which included Asian Tour players through the Official World Golf Ranking at the recent PGA Championship. So I mean that was completely contradictory to what the R&A did."
It remains unclear as to whether this was a permanent decision or one which could be subject to change in future. "It was for this year in particular but nothing mentioned about next year or the year after. It was the 150th Open Championship is in high demand and we’ve decided that this spot is one of the ones we wish to sacrifice this year."
As a direct result of the relationship with LIV Golf Investments, Thant added that the relationship between the Asian Tour and DP World Tour has been placed on "pause." Whilst the two parties will no longer co-sanction events for the foreseeable future, the relationship remains amicable.
"We enjoyed a great relationship with them over the last two decades, albeit a little one sided when we co-sanction just because the majority of the tournaments would be in Asia rather than Europe so really felt that we weren’t getting justice in terms of a fair number of events on the two continents. But they’ve drawn their line in the sand saying they won’t co-sanction with us in future," Thant said.
"I like to hope that in future we’ll end up working together again and everyone will accept what we’re doing. I mean our global expansion is not something that’s unusual. The PGA Tour goes outside of America, they do tournaments, or used to do, Malaysia, they’ve got Singapore, they’ve got Korea. Obviously the DP World Tour does stuff in all places apart from the USA. So I don’t see much of an issue with us doing the same, we’ve just never been in this position before."
The Asian Tour held it's first event on English soil at the International Series England at Slaley Hall were Zimbabwe's Scott Vincent fired a final round 66 to finish 12 under par, a shot ahead of Australia's Travis Smyth. Vincent also won the Mizuno Open on the Japan Tour just one week prior.
James joined Golf Monthly having previously written for other digital outlets. He is obsessed with all areas of the game – from tournament golf, to history, equipment, technique and travel. He is also an avid collector of memorabilia; with items from the likes of Bobby Jones, Tiger Woods, Francis Ouimet, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Adam Scott and Ernie Els. As well as writing for Golf Monthly, James’ golfing highlight is fist bumping Phil Mickelson on his way to winning the Open Championship at Muirfield in 2013. James grew up on the east coast of England and is the third generation of his golfing family. He now resides in Leeds and is a member of Cobble Hall Golf Club with a handicap index of 1.7. His favourite films are The Legend of Bagger Vance and Tin Cup.