Malaysia’s Arie Irawan is attempting to forge a new path in his professional career as he competes in this week’s PGA Tour Series-China International Qualifying Tournament No. 2, the second of two successive 72-hole, no-cut qualifiers at Mission Hills Haikou.
The top-15 finishers over the Sandbelt Trails Course will earn full cards and the next 25 and ties will be conditionally exempt for this year’s PGA Tour Series-China, which will reward the top-five money winners with places on the Web.com Tour, the path to the PGA Tour.
Arie has played primarily on the Asian Development Tour since 2013 and won two events in 2015, the year the 27-year-old also held a full card on the Asian Tour. His career veered off course in early 2016 when a moped accident left him with metal plates in his shoulder and forced him out of golf for several months.
However, an appearance later in the year at the Clearwater Bay Open in Hong Kong, the first PGA Tour Series-China event outside of mainland China, opened his eyes to a circuit that helped propel Zecheng Dou and Xinjun Zhang to the PGA Tour via the Web.com Tour.
“I had just played the CIMB Classic and then I did the Monday qualifier for the Clearwater Bay Open as I wanted to try out a PGA TOUR China event. I qualified to play and I loved how PGA Tour China sets up their tournaments, the quality of the players and purses,” said Arie, who studied at the University of Tulsa.
“For me, my goal is to get into the Web.com Tour and get back to the U.S. I was at college there and if anyone wants to get to the U.S., PGA Tour China is the best way.
“I’m definitely confident. I didn’t play too well at Asian Tour Q-School last month, but it was my first tournament of the year and I wasn’t really ready, but then I finished third at a local Malaysian event in Perlis. I also won another in December. My confidence is there, for sure. I just need to make more birdies and score well.”
Arie has experience of playing in China since his amateur days, when he competed in the first Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Mission Hills Shenzhen in 2009 and the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, where he shot a final-round 64 at Dragon Lake Golf Club to tie for 12th. Most recently, he played an Asian Tour event in Xiamen at the end of last year.
Looking back, he admits his moped accident was his own fault, but admitted he needed a break from the game after mixed results in his rookie season on the Asian Tour. Now, he’s eyeing an opportunity to take a road less travelled by Malaysian pros, but one he hopes will take him to golf’s biggest stages.
“I was riding a Vespa for the first time. I’m used to going fast so I throttled hard on the accelerator and tried to turn Moto GP style and as I fell, my shoulder hit the curb and fractured a bone,” Irawan said.
“I was going through a tough stretch in my golf game and the accident was kind of silly, but it was a sign that I needed to take a break from golf as I struggled in my first Asian Tour season with a full card.
“I’ve had some highs and lows in my career, but I’m starting to understand how to play in different countries in Asia. I’ve had my experience of playing in China and now I’m hoping to play much more here this year.”
This week’s 120-player field featured players from 21 countries and territories across Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America, with the largest contingents again from the U.S. and South Korea.
After a one-year hiatus, PGA Tour Series-China resumes in March with a 14-tournament schedule, with each tournament offering RMB 1.5 million, a 25-percent increase over purse levels from 2016. The Mainland China Qualifying Tournament for China passport holders will be held at Wolong Lake Golf Club in Liuzhou City in Guangxi from February 27-March 2 (Tuesday-Friday).