CHICAGO’S LUKE ZHAO IS OVERALL CHAMPION OF THE 2019 TURKISH AIRLINES WORLD GOLF CUP.
Ninety-eight amateur golfers from 71 countries across the globe teed it up in Antalya on the Turkish Riviera for November’s Grand Final of the Turkish Airlines World Golf Cup.
This was ample proof that the cup organized by the Turkish Airlines -with SOCAR, National, Türk Telekomas, and Acushnet/FootJoy the chief sponsors- continues to grow as the top corporate golf event in the world. There were over 8,000 participants in the competition in 2019, with 101 winners of qualifying events on five continents earning spots in the Grand Final. All golfers battle it out for top spot and the right to be called the Turkish Airlines World Golf Cup overall champion.
And this honor in 2019 goes to Luke Zhao who is originally from Hong Kong but now lives in Chicago. His wife Ivy accompanied him to the Grand Final and perhaps she was his inspiration because over the two rounds of play he amassed an impressive total of 93 Stableford points. This not only saw him win the category, but become the overall champion for 2019.
“My father introduced me to golf six years ago and I now love the game,” said Zhao. “I got some coaching ahead of the Grand Final and was told to practise my short game more than anything else and it definitely paid off because my chipping and putting were the key,” he added at the glittering Grand Final prize-giving dinner.
“Now that I’ve got into golf I realize you can play it all your life, into your eighties, and getting to the Grand Final was a once- in-a-lifetime experience because you meet other golfers from all over the world, and hear what they have to say and see how they play golf. It’s been so interesting and enlightening.”
Aysen Erdoğan from Istanbul, with her all-round skills, won the B Category. This was not only a triumph for the host nation, but also for women’s golf. According to Ahmet Ağaoğlu, president of the Turkish Golf Federation, 40 percent of the country’s 8,300 golfers who are members of clubs and therefore affiliated to the federation, are women. The game is clearly growing among women and Erdoğan has done Turkey proud.
The third category winner, in the A Division, was Tomohiro Uemura from Tokyo who took up the game nine years ago and, off his seven handicap, had solid rounds of 77 and 76 which converted into 77 Stableford points. “Playing golf is a lot of fun, and you meet so many different people and -this was especially the case at this Grand Final,” said Uemura.
Interestingly enough, at the prize-giving cerenomy in a Q&A session with former Australian champion golfer turned TV commentator Wayne Riley, leading European Tour professionals Matt Wallace and Andy Sullivan stressed that amateur golfers wanting to improve their scores should work on their short games rather than spend hours on the range trying to get a bit of extra distance with their drivers. “Hitting it 20 meters further doesn’t help much, but being able to regularly sink four- or five-foot putts makes a huge difference,” said Sullivan. And like Zhao, Uemura put his A Division win to superior chipping and putting, rather than being able to hit the ball a long way off the tee.
So the category winners came from America, Turkey, and Japan -a reflection of the true international nature and broad reach of the Turkish Airlines World Golf Cup. And this extended to Sri Lanka because the gross winner, Sachin de Silva, is from there. He played some spectacular golf with rounds of 72 and 69 for a three- under-par total of 141. Just 23, he has for several years represented Sri Lanka in international matches. He says, “Now, I plan to turn professional and will be going to the Asian Tour School.” A member at Royal Colombo, one of the oldest golf clubs in the world, his best round to date has been a sizzling 64 on his home turf.
Not only did Christine Ochola from Kenya win the ladies’ nearest the pin prize both days, but she brought some color to the grand dinner by wearing a stunning African Masai outfit. Ochola is involved in the golf industry and is a member at Muthaiga Golf Club in Nairobi. Asked about achieving the nearest the pin “double,” she said, “It was the same hole, No. 3 on the Kings nine, both days, with a nine-iron. The distance is 92 meters and I hit it to 3.71 m on day one and 3.01 m the following day. How cool was that!” Mariano Rodriguez in the first round and Roberto Fabris in the second collected the men’s nearest the pin prizes.
The various winners went on to earn coveted spots in the Turkish Airlines Open Pro-Am on the Montgomerie Royal Maxx course, playing alongside some of the world’s best golfers including England’s Tyrrell Hatton who continued to win the Turkish Airlines Open in a six-man playoff.
Turkish Airlines Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee M. İlker Aycı said of the TAWGC, “We are delighted to maintain our commitment to golf as the seventh staging
of the Turkish Airlines World Golf Cup Amateur Series is concluded after a great spectacle and competition. As one of the world’s best corporate golf tournaments, the Turkish Airlines World’s Golf Cup is becoming more exciting every year. We are already looking forward to seeing the next finals’ excitement, and we congratulate this year’s new champion Luke Zhao.”
Final word by Zhao, “The final course was in fantastic condition and, to be honest, playing here on what they call the Turkish Riviera is like a golfing paradise.” He’s not wrong. 15 world- class golf courses squeezed together within a 20 km stretch of exquisite Mediterranean coast. Twenty-five years ago there wasn’t a single golf course here and just five or six hotels. The transformation has been truly astonishing. It’s all to do with Turkey’s drive to promote tourism, and it has been an unqualified success. So, yes, Mr. Zhao, it is indeed a golfing paradise.