GOLF fans can expect world-class action when the CIMB Classic tees off at the TPC Kuala Lumpur this week. CIMB Group chief executive officer Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Aziz shares with StarSport’s LIM TEIK HUAT about its commitment in taking the US$7mil (RM30mil) event to greater heights.
Zafrul: CIMB Classic is now in its eighth year and has become a highly-anticipated annual event in Malaysia and across the region. Being the title sponsor has also magnified CIMB’s stature as one of the region’s leading banking groups, enhanced by our partnership with the PGA Tour.
Our brand has risen in line with the growing popularity of the CIMB Classic as a world-class golf tournament since 2010 and the event continues to create visibility for the country on a global scale, particularly through the expansive television broadcast to over 1.1 billion households and in 227 countries yearly.
CIMB has become synonymous with professional golf in Malaysia and South-East Asia as we continue to deliver an exceptional golf experience for players and fans alike.
StarSport: CIMB Classic is like a stepping stone for Justin Thomas. He won twice here (2015-2016) and is now a Major champion (PGA Championship) and FedExCup winner? You must be happy with his timely rise?
Zafrul: We are certainly pleased that Justin will return to defend his title again at the CIMB Classic at the TPC Kuala Lumpur. We are also delighted that since winning his first PGA Tour tournament at our event here in 2015, he has become a world-class golfer with five victories in the recently-concluded PGA Tour 2016-17 season, which includes a first Major title, the FedExCup and also being voted as the Player of the Year.
He was also one of the star performers in the United States team’s recent victory at the Presidents Cup.
For us, it is very exciting and rewarding to see how Justin’s career has taken off following his first win at the CIMB Classic.
StarSport: Are there any plans to sponsor more Malaysian golfers?
Zafrul: The CIMB Classic has, no doubt, enhanced the popularity of golf in the region as well as provided the inspiration for local players to rise up to the challenge of competing against stars from the PGA Tour. We allocate two guaranteed spots to Malaysian golfers to play in the CIMB Classic. In July, CIMB staged the CIMB National Championship where the winner – Danny Chia – earned his sixth appearance.
The tournament offered RM200,000 and featured leading Malaysian golfers fighting for the coveted spot at the CIMB Classic.
In addition, the highest ranked non-exempt Malaysian from the Official World Golf Ranking as of Oct 2 was Nicholas Fung and he also earned a spot.
So, this year, we are excited to have three Malaysians in our field in Danny, Nicholas and Gavin Kyle Green, who qualified through the Asian Tour Order of Merit, which is a wonderful achievement.
The last time we had a similar situation was in 2015.
It’s encouraging to see more Malaysians featuring in the CIMB Classic, given its world-class stature which only features a limited and elite 78-man field.
Through this, we’d like to think that the CIMB Classic will inspire Malaysian golfers to improve their game for a chance to play in the same field as many world-class golfers and consequently raise the quality of Malaysian golf.
StarSport: As the CIMB Classic is now part of the PGA Tour, are the any plans to increase the prize money like the WGC tournament in Shanghai?
Zafrul: With a US$7mil (RM30mil) prize purse, the CIMB Classic is by far the richest golf tournament in Malaysia and South-East Asia. The winner this year will bag US$1.26mil (RM5.3mil).
We will continue to review our tournament with the PGA Tour to see how we can make it better year-on-year, including the prize money.
Thus far, we have been really pleased with the growth and rise in stature of our event in the world of golf. This is evident through the quality of this year’s field, where we will feature two players ranked inside the world’s top five – world No. 3 Hideki Matsuyma of Japan and world No. 3 Justin Thomas of United States.
With eight Major winners, nine Presidents Cup team members and 14 players from the world’s top-50 competing, this is a massive boost to our event’s stature as the leading golf tournament in South-East Asia.