Hong Kong: For golf’s bubble boys, the season-ending UBS Hong Kong Open this week is do-or-die.
Finishing in the top-60 of the final Asian Tour’s Order of Merit on Sunday will mean another opportunity to shoot for millions in prize pots across the region next year. If you don’t, it could mean a return to the dreaded Qualifying School in Thailand or limited tournament starts.
Spaniard Javi Colomo, currently 61st on the rankings, is amongst those facing the pressure of finishing within the top-60 for the first time since making his debut in Asia in 2012.
“As it’s the last tournament, I’m playing for my Tour card. I need to play well. Christmas time is coming, that’s why I hope to play well and I’ll be happy,” said the 32-year-old Spaniard.
A new coach and some swing changes have worked against Colomo this season, with only one top-10 to his name. But returning to the venerable Hong Kong Golf Club is giving him some positive vibes as he finished tied fifth here in 2013.
“I’m always happy to be in Hong Kong. It’s one of my favourite weeks. I like challenging courses and this is one of them. You need to play 100 per cent if you want to beat the course. I normally play well in the last part of the year and this is always held towards the end of the year. I’m looking forward to finish the year strongly,” he said.
“I’ve struggled all year with the long game. I changed my coach, and I worked so hard with the swing but things didn’t happen. It’s golf. I’m putting so well, my short game is sometimes unreal but from the tee, I’ve found too many problems. That’s why I’ve not been playing for a win in tournaments.”
With his wife Kristina and eight-month-old baby girl Lola, who is visiting Asia for the first time, in tow, the slightly built Colomo hopes they will bring him good luck.
“It’s fantastic to have them here. It’s the first time, it’s a little bit tough. We didn’t know how to do it in regards to the plane ride over here but she was very nice which we were very surprised. She almost didn’t cry and slept almost throughout. I have to play well for her, my wife and also my parents in law. There’s a lot of support this week. Nothing wrong can happen,” said Colomo.
Last season, India’s Himmat Rai finished joint runner-up in one of the late tournaments of the year to seal his card. Ranked 75th on the merit list now, Rai knows of the huge task ahead and hopes he can finally deliver on a week where his fate is delicately poised.
“I’ve been out there all year and been playing well in patches. Hopefully I can stick to my game plan this week and focus on one shot at a time. That’s what it’s about."
"I made a lot of cuts this year but I just didn’t get that top finish. There wasn’t that big finish which you need to have on the Tour with the level of competition that we have these days. I did that a couple of times last year but the season is not over yet."
A return to the Hong Kong Golf Club could just be the right antidote for Rai as he seeks to turn his season around with a good result at the UBS Hong Kong Open.
“As soon as I walk in here, I just feel comfortable. There’re certain courses around the region in the year where it just happens. We still have four days of competition to go. I’ve had a good year in terms of preparation and we’ll see what happens this week,” said Rai.
Australia’s Adam Groom is meanwhile hoping to make a massive jump up the merit standing where he is currently in 107th place.
“It’s the last event of the year. Obviously, I’ve played poorly this year so I’ll just try to enjoy the event and not get worried about what happens.Funny things have happened though. It’s been a grind this year, I had a shoulder injury and missed a few events at the start of the season. Then, my old man was also sick and my golf hasn’t really been a priority,” said Groom.
Personal setbacks and injury woes may have curtailed Groom’s progress on the Asian Tour this season but he prefers to look on the brighter side of life as his season comes to a close.
“I’ve played well here in the past. I love it. I was pretty lucky to get into the event as I was sixth reserve a week ago and I ended up getting in. My brother is caddying for me and my wife and parents are also coming up which should be fun. I’ve got a full entourage,” said the Australian.
Entry to the first two rounds of this year's tournament on Thursday 8 and Friday 9 December will be free of charge. Those aged under 21 will be admitted free of charge for all four days of the tournament, as the organisers push to introduce the game to wider segments of the Hong Kong community in 2016.