CHIBA, Japan (Reuters) - It took the PGA Tour a long time to officially touch down in Japan but now that it finally is here the organisation plans to put down roots and never leave, Commissioner Jay Monahan said on Wednesday.
Speaking on the eve of the inaugural Zozo Championship at Narashino Country Club, Monahan spoke glowingly of what he expects to be a shining moment for the U.S.-based tour.
Seventy-eight of the world’s best players, including Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, will compete over 72 holes for a purse of nearly $10 million in front of sellout crowds at the course on the outskirts of Tokyo.
In a country starved of the chance to see world class golf regularly, the excitement is palpable, although a forecast for torrential rain on Friday could throw a spanner in the works.
“When we make a commitment to bring a new event to a market, that’s a commitment that is permanent and our intention is never to leave Japan, to always have a PGA Tour event in Japan from this day forward,” Monahan said.
He added that the tour had long wanted to visit Japan, but needed a suitable sponsor to make it a reality.
But while there is little doubt the tournament will be successful inside the ropes, questions remain about its future given the clouds hanging over naming-rights sponsor Zozo.
The E-commerce fashion retailer has a six-year deal with the PGA Tour to stage the event, signed last year by billionaire founder and golf fan Yusaku Maezawa.
But Maezawa said recently that he would step down as chief executive after a series of missteps which have slashed the company’s market value by more than half from a peak last year of $14 billion.
The PGA Tour, however, shrugged off concerns about Zozo’s sponsorship deal.
Monahan said he had dined on Tuesday with the incoming Zozo chief executive officer and that the conversation had been extremely positive.
“This is something not only are they committed to over the next six years, but I would like to think they are going to be with us well beyond,” Monahan said.
The Zozo Championship replaces the CIMB Classic, which fell by the wayside after being played for nine years in Kuala Lumpur, the final five as part of the PGA Tour.
Monahan said it did not “make business sense” for CIMB to continue their sponsorship when the contract expired.
“You can look at it as a loss but it also creates opportunity given the demand that there is for new events to come into our schedule,” he said.
This week’s event is part of a three-week Asian swing for the tour, following last week’s CJ Cup in South Korea, and next week’s HSBC-sponsored World Golf Championships event in China.
Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Christian Schmollinger