Hidden Grace Golf Club, Shenzhen – Graeme McDowell believes the next generation of rising stars currently playing on The International Series are the real deal, as he backed some of the Asian Tour’s most promising stars to step up and give themselves a life-changing opportunity to join the LIV Golf League next season.
The 2010 US Open champion and Ryder Cup legend was paired with talented Thai Phachara Khongwatmai and home hope Shao Minghao, the Chinese amateur, for the opening two rounds of the Volvo China Open at the Hidden Grace Golf Club in Shenzhen.
McDowell will get plenty of opportunity to see how the latest crop react to pressure: the Volvo China Open is the first of three tournaments in three weeks that will decide the Order of Merit on The International Series, the Asian Tour’s set of 10 elevated events, with the Hong Kong Open and Indonesian Masters next on the schedule.
Those events determine the standings on the Order of Merit, with the outright winner securing a lucrative place on the LIV Golf League next season. An additional 32 eligible players will also have the chance to play the LIV Golf Promotions event from 8-10 December, a qualifier in Abu Dhabi which gives three entries onto the 2024 LIV Golf League.
McDowell is confident some of the Asian Tour’s youngsters have the raw materials needed, as he singled out Phachara and Thai compatriot Sadom Kaewkanjana as danger men. He said: “I have played a bit of golf with Sadom and Phachara and I’ve been impressed with both.
“I feel they are on the edge of making that next step, but it is how you make that next step. The only way to do is to get on big stage and find that belief in yourself. No one can teach it and it can’t be found on a range – it can only be found during a big event.
“So you must get onto that LIV Golf Promotions event, get a big weekend in, get onto LIV and then have a big year there next year. Unfortunately, there is no way to practice that. Phachara is a nice player. I like his game and his attitude. It is tough to speak for all on the Asian Tour but a lot of these kids are so easy going yet so competitive and talented.”
Never known as one of the biggest hitters in golf, McDowell is still happy taking a methodical approach to golf, comparing his rounds to a game of chess.
The 44-year-old, who has played for Cleeks GC for the past two seasons on the LIV Golf League, admits that many on the new wave of the Asian Tour are a lot closer to the style of Northern Irish compatriot Rory McIlroy, a four-time major winner and six-time Ryder Cup star renowned for his big hitting with the driver.
He laughed: “Listen, the young breed just drive it so far now, they are very aggressive. I played with Shao Minghao, the young Chinese lad, and he literally hit driver everywhere. I joked with my caddie, Kenny, ‘we need to play hard the next few years and make a couple of quid’ (a lot of money) - the game is passing us by a bit!
“I am a bit of a conservative player - I don’t overpower golf courses. But these kids don’t play chess, I’m not sure what game they are playing. Shao was very aggressive and used the biggest weapon in his bag – the driver.
“I used to play with Rory and he was ahead of his time in the way he took on courses. I used to scratch my head but now everyone does it. It is great to see the sport kick on and be physical. I’ve played the same way for 30 years, I can’t change now unfortunately!”
McDowell highlighted three other rising stars regularly playing on The International Series as shining examples of talented youngsters bringing their A game and wowing golf fans from all over the region.
Spaniard David Puig, compatriot Eugenio Chacarra and American Andy Ogletree have all won on The International Series this year, and the latter is all but confirmed to join the Spanish duo on LIV Golf next season by way of top spot on the 2023 Order of Merit title.
McDowell said: “It is interesting for these young guys, you look at Chacarra and Puig in particular, they have chosen the LIV path, and we are not really familiar with that path. They have taken a massive risk in a way but they have both kicked on and I’m really happy with these guys.
“They have been ostracized a little bit from the young golfing world, but they have used the LIV Golf League as a platform and taken things to the next level. I’m happy to see them kick on the way they are – they are going to be great young players. I hope the world opens up for them and they get the opportunity to try and win Majors as well.”