May 01, 2022

How an Olympic skier, Viktor Hovland & Matthew Woolf have links to the Beautiful Thailand Swing

By Kent Gray
A two-time Olympic downhill skier turned mini-tour professional, the brother of a popular Asian Tour winner and a graduate of the U.S. collegiate system with world-famous team-mates who has, until now, had nowhere to pursue his own life-changing dreams.

Even before a ball has even been struck, the three-week, four-event Beautiful Thailand Swing (BTS) has fulfilled its overarching remit of providing players from every corner of the globe with a launchpad to the game’s loftiest stages.

Among the veritable melting pot of nationalities set to be represented in the $75,000, 54-hole events ­– two apiece at Laguna Golf Phuket and Blue Canyon Country Club and all four co-sanctioned by the Asian Development and MENA Tours – is Andorra.

Kevin Esteve (pictured) played age-group tennis for the Principality but made his name in alpine skiing,  finishing as high as sixth in the Combined Downhill at the 2011 Garmisch World Championship. Now 32, he twice marched into Olympic cauldrons for Andorra, first at Vancouver 2010 and again at Sochi 2014 where he achieved his Olympic best result of 32nd in the downhill. Sadly he also crashed in Sochi, suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury so severe that it lead to three surgeries and eventually to Esteve turning his back on the slippery slopes.

Undeterred, Esteve made the most of his recovery by finishing his sports degree in France and throwing himself into golf. He’s now ranked 1387th in the OWGR, is 42nd in the MENA Tour’s Journey to Jordan Order of Merit race entering the BTS and is coming off an encouraging T-6 finish at the ECCO Tour Spanish Masters in early March, a OWGR-sanctioned Nordic Golf League event.

Galven Green is another looking forward to the first stop of the BTS, the Laguna Phuket Challenge starting on Tuesday, after accepting a special invite from the MENA Tour. The Malaysian is the younger brother of three-time ADT winner, Rio 2016 Olympian and 2017 Mercuries Taiwan Masters (Asian Tour) champion Gavin Green.

New Mexico University alumni Galven, the world No. 1724, is no stranger to Asian Tour followers nor the courses set to host the BTS, having teed it up in the Blue Canyon Phuket Challenge (MC) and the Laguna Phuket Championship (T-71) before Christmas and then the SMBC Singapore Open (MC) in early January.

There was due to be another familiar surname on the Laguna Phuket Challenge start sheet this week but sadly Devin Suri, the brother of DP World Tour winner Julian, is an 11th-hour scratching due to a wrist injury. It is not known if he will be fit enough to tee it up in the Laguna Phuket Cup (May 8-10), Blue Canyon Classic (May 13-15) or the Blue Canyon Open (May 18-20).

There will be great interest in the Phuket performances of Ferdinand Müeller who counts current world No. 6 Viktor Hovland and fellow PGA Tour winner Matthew Wolff among his former teammates at Oklahoma State University (OSU).  The 24-year-old German was also a Cowboys’ team-mate of Dubai-based Indian Rayhan Thomas, the first amateur to win on the MENA Tour. The pandemic hasn’t been kind Müeller, who was named a first-team Academic All-Big 12 selection in his senior year (2019-20) at OSU, as he has been unable to tee it up in a Q-School. Thankfully, the strategic alliance struck between the Asian and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Tours has proved a foothold on the OWGR ladder.

The BTS serves as the first events for the MENA Tour since it was shut down by COVID-19 on March 4, 2020 – 790 long and challenging days. The ADT resumed action in late March/early April at the Tata Steel-backed Gurugram Challenge in India. Dodge Kemmer won at Classic Golf & Country Club in Gurgaon but the American won’t be at the Laguna Phuket Challenge at least as he as secured a start in the Asian Tour’s 41st GS Caltex Maekyung Open at Namseoul Country Club from May 5-8.

The next five players in the ADT Order of Merit - Chanat Sakulpolphaisan (Thailand), Andreas Gronkvist (Sweden), Arnond Vongvanij (Thailand), Yuvraj Sandhu (India) and Joshua Grenville-Wood (England) - are confirmed starters.

Grenville-Wood is a duel ADT/MENA Tour member and determined to secure a top-seven finish in the season-long ADT OOM race and in turn snare a 2023 Asian Tour card.

The 24-year-old Dubai-based Englishman will also participate in the MENA Tour battle within the wider BTS battle. The top-10 players in the final 2020+ Journey to Jordan standings, which will be decided after the BTS-deciding Blue Canyon Open, will earn invites to the next two ADT events and critically, exemption to the final stage of Asian Tour Q-School. The Journey to Jordan champion will also receive an invite to one of the Asian Tour’s new $1.5 million-plus International Series events in 2022. The three leading players in that race, Englishman David Langley and David Hague and Scotsman Ryan Lumsden, are all competing in Phuket.

At last count, players from 29 countries were listed to tee it up in the 144-strong Laguna Phuket Challenge field made up of 55 ADT, 55 MENA Tour, 20 All Thailand Golf Tour (ATGT) and 14 invites split evenly between the ADT and MENA Tours.