The top 30 golfers in the world is preparing to tee off and play for a gigantic $45 million prize purse at the PGA Tour Championship in Atlanta on Friday. Meanwhile many of their fellow pros in Asia have not swung a club or earned a cent for the past six months.
Players from India to Australia have been idle since the Asian Tour was halted after the Malaysia Open on March 7, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some haven't even been able to practise even though international golf has resumed in June.
They should have been teeing off next week at the Shinhan Donghae Open in South Korea, the first of three restart events. But along with tournaments in Japan and Taiwan it has been cancelled, with little prospect of the circuit resuming before 2021.
Asian Tour CEO and Commissioner Cho Minn Thant had been hoping to stage 10 to 12 tournaments before the end of 2020 in the sort of bio-secure "bubbles" that have enabled the US, European and LPGA tours to resume.
"We've approached countries with the same protocols that the US, European tours and other sports have employed -- testing, players kept in a bio-secure bubble," Cho told AFP. "But we are bound by Asian countries who are not lifting the 14-day quarantine requirements."
No work, no pay
A mini-swing in virus-ravaged India next month is also off and November's Hong Kong Open, a European and Asian Tour event, is likely to move to January, according to reports. Next month's WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai was cancelled this week.
It was the last remaining men's international tournament scheduled this year, after US PGA Tour events in South Korea and Japan were shifted to America. Just four Asian Tour events were completed before the Covid-19 virus pandemic started wreaking havoc Only domestic circuits in countries such as Thailand and South Korea managing to restart.
To add insult to injury, golf professionals on tour in Asia do not earn the same multi-million-dollar purses as their counterparts in the US and Europe, leaving those in coronavirus hotspots such as India with a bleak outlook.
"We have never stayed away from the game for so long," India's S.S.P. Chawrasia, a six-time winner on the Asian Tour, told AFP from his home in Kolkata. "I was about to travel to the UK for a few European Tour events a month back when I tested positive for Covid," said the 42-year-old.
"Though asymptomatic, my plans went haywire. "Players who play full-time on the Asian Tour have tough times in store," said Chawrasia. "The condition of players on the Indian Tour is terrible. No earning.
Nothing." For many golfers, it's not feasible to get other employment. "The job scenario is very grim," Chawrasia said. "Knowledgeable people are losing jobs, so how can you expect sportspersons to join an office and start working?" Australia's Terry Pilkadaris (46) is under lockdown in Melbourne, epicentre of Australia's latest severe outbreak.
As part of the Asian Tour order of merit, Pilkadaris hasn't even picked up a club for six months. "At first I enjoyed the break because I needed it and I'm like, it's fantastic, I'm recharged and ready to go," he told AFP this week.
"But we still can't practise, we can't do anything. We will have had 15 weeks of full lockdown." In Australia, pros are better off, but the long layoff is still being felt financially. "We're fortunate enough in Australia, the government have been subsidising us," said Pilkadaris, who has been coaching online to bring in some cash.
"But it doesn't cover all my expenses." The Asian Tour has logistical problems in trying to organise a travelling circus comprising players from more than 25 countries -- an obstacle that seems insurmountable during a pandemic.