January 13, 2016
Team Asia members on Tuesday exuded confidence ahead of this week's EurAsia Cup clash, saying the improving calibre of the region's golf had given them high hopes of beating Europe.
The inaugural running of the match-play team event two years ago ended in a 10-10 tie following a stirring comeback by Asia, but the squad's players said they may go one better this time.
"There has been so much improvement, especially on the Asian side (since 2014)," said Asian Tour Order of Merit winner Anirban Lahiri of India.
"If you look at the Asian team now we have five or six people who are in the top 60 in the world, and that was not the case when we played two years back."
"That tells you that Asian golf has kicked on and has gotten stronger over the last two years."
The Ryder Cup-style contest at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Malaysia tees off Friday with bragging rights between the European and Asian Tours at stake.
The European circuit is the larger of the two, with more of its players achieving success on the sport's biggest stages.
A proposed merger between the two tours has sparked concerns among Asian players of becoming eclipsed by European players and tournaments.
But Team Asia members vowed to serve notice of the region's quality this week.
"We believe that if we perform as well as we did (in 2014), Europe (will find it) tough to take the trophy away from us," said Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand.
Asian players have gone from strength to strength in the past season.
Lahiri won twice in co-sanctioned Asian-European events and logged top-10 finishes around the world, while South Korea’s An Byeong-Hun took European Tour Rookie of the Year honours.
Thai veteran Thongchai Jaidee recorded eight top-10s and a career-high world ranking of 28, and countryman Kiradech won three times globally.
All are on the 12-man Asian squad captained by India's Jeev Milkha Singh.
Lahiri said Europe had sent a "much stronger team" than in 2014.
"What does that tell you? It tells you that we are strong enough and they are not going to take any chances," he said.
European golfers who qualified include England's Danny Willett, Shane Lowry of Ireland, and Frenchman Victor Dubuisson.
Major winner Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland has bolstered the side further with his captain's picks -- Ryder Cup match-play veterans Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter of England.
Clarke also skippers Europe in the Ryder Cup against the United States in September, making the EurAsia Cup something of a trial run.
He said Tuesday he remained focused this week purely on victory in Malaysia, but admitted the outcome could guide pairings and strategy against the US.
If Europe fails again to clinch the EurAsia Cup, "it's going to send some shudders down the Ryder Cup team," Lahiri said.