EurAsia Cup thrills despite controversy

It would be fair to say that the recently held EurAsia Cup did not get under way without a fair degree of contention.

The new tournament, co-sanctioned by the European and Asian Tours, debuted on the world stage amid a great deal acrimony from the family of the late Seve Ballesteros, whose brainchild, the Royal Trophy, it is in direct competition to.

Seve’s Royal Trophy, which started in 2006, features an almost identical Europe vs Asia team format to the one employed at the EurAsia Cup, and the Ballesteros family, who now serve as caretakers of the older tournament, were left understandably upset about the conflict.

The European Tour initially approved the Royal Trophy, but after it moved to back the EurAsia Cup, relations between the Tour and Ballesteros’ family firm, Amen Corner, deteriorated.

Last year, the European Tour was quoted as saying that Ballesteros would have “cherished” the new contest, but that led to bitter denials from his family.

In a statement released on March 27, not cooincidentally the opening day of the EurAsia Cup, Seve’s nephew Ivan reacted angrily, saying: “We stand by everything we have said before as it is all true and the European Tour’s stance in this regard is indefensible.

“They are acting directly against the request of Seve Ballesteros, a golfer who the European Tour itself always describes as having made an important contribution to the development of the Tour.

“The European and Asian Tours have tarnished the image of golf by treating the heritage of the Royal Trophy and its partners with no regard, no sensitivity and a complete lack of understanding of protocol.”

Forced to respond to such a public rebuke, the European Tour released a statement saying the Seve Ballesteros Foundation charity, now run by his three children, fully supported the new event.

“The EurAsia Cup will provide a new platform to continue the considerable charitable work already undertaken on behalf of the Seve Ballesteros Foundation,” read the statement.

“Since 2010 the European Tour has raised over £1.2 million for the foundation and that figure will be added to following the playing of the EurAsia Cup.

“To that end the Seve Ballesteros Foundation fully supports the EurAsia Cup through its position as official charity. The foundation… is run by Seve’s children and heirs Javier, Miguel and Carmen.”

Amid all this undignified tit-for-tat off the course, the golfers themselves were getting on with what they do best, and judged solely by that measure, it has to be acknowledged that the EurAsia Cup delivered.

The European team was led by Miguel Angel Jimenez (Spain) and featured the likes of Graeme McDowell (N Ireland), Thomas Bjorn (Denmark), Jamie Donaldson (Wales) and Victor Dubuisson (France).

Captain Thongchai Jaidee (Thailand) led the Asian team, which included players like Kiradech Aphibarnrat (Thailand), Gaganjeet Bhullar (India) and Hyung-sung Kim (South Korea).

On paper, certainly, Europe were comfortably the stronger team, and could boast a few players who had already experienced the competitive Ryder Cup cauldron.

And for the first two days of the three-day event, held at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Malaysia, it seemed as if the Europeans would coast to a comfortable win.

Jimenez’ men raced to a 5-0 lead after day one, sweeping the opening five fourball matches, and looked set to maintain that lead heading into the final day’s 10 singles matches before Anirban Lahiri provided the Asians with the faintest of lifelines on the final match of day 2.

Lahiri, playing alongside Bangladeshi Siddikur Rahman, sunk a pressure-filled putt to ensure the fifth and final foursomes match went to Asia.

Along with the two draws and one victory they had already secured on the day, it meant that the Asians would go into the final round with only a four-point deficit, as opposed to six.

It was hardly a cause for wild celebration, but it did give Jaidee’s charges a sniff of mounting a comeback – and mount a comeback they did, snatching seven of the ten points available on the final day to ensure a thrilling 10-10 draw.

Graeme McDowell lost 3&2 to captain courageous Jaidee, Thomas Bjorn was beaten by 2&1 Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Hyung-sung Kim was a 4&2 winner over Pablo Larrazabal, Anirban Lahiri again performed with a 2&1 win over Victor Dubuisson, Gaganjeet Bhullar comfortably beat Thorbjorn Olesen 4&3 and Siddikur Rahman overcame Stephen Gallacher by the same margin.

Only captain Jimenez and Joost Luiten managed to secure victories for Europe, the Spaniard edging Nicholas Fung by one hole and Luiten achieving the same against Japan’s Koumei Oda.

And with Prayad Marksaeng finishing all-square against Jamie Donaldson, it left the scores tied on 9½-9½.

Fittingly, it all came down the the final match between Spain’s Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Hideto Tanihara of Japan.

All square after the first 17 holes, both players reached the 18th green in two, but while Tanihara needed only a tap-in for his par, Fernandez-Castano needed to hole a nervy four-footer to ensure the 10-all draw – which he promptly did.

Though no champion was crowned, both captains were happy to acknowledge that golf emerged as the winner.

“Every part of my team was unbelievable to come back, fantastic,” said Jaidee.

“To end on the last, and on the 18th hole, it’s fantastic. I have never seen a match like this.”

Jimenez concurred.

“It’s an amazing day of golf,” the 50-year-old said. “It’s been very tough.

“At the end of the week, the European Team did not win the tournament, but the Asian Team, they played very well.

“As I said in the prize giving presentation, Asia, Europe, they both win, nobody loses.”

Meanwhile, the Royal Trophy isn’t going away – it’s set for 19-21 December at the Dragon Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou, China, and it remains to be seen if these two similar tournaments can enjoy the necessary amount of support from both players and fans.

The EurAsia Cup appears to be here to stay as well, however, and if the golf itself is any indication, the tournament has a bright future ahead.