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By Bill Kwon

Posted on: Thursday, January 7, 2010

New year starts with bang thanks to PGA

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Y.E. Yang of South Korea hits from the fourth tee during yesterday's pro-am of the SBS Championship in Kapalua, Maui. Yang earned is first career victory in the 2002 SBS Championship when it was a Korean PGA Tour event.

ERIC RISBERG | Associated Press

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Defending champion Geoff Ogilvy follows his drive from the third tee during yesterday's SBS pro-am.

ERIC RISBERG | Associated Press

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Now that President Obama and Michelle Wie, two of our most famous keiki o ka 'āina, have ended their Christmas vacations here in their home state he golfed, she didn't it's time we move on and turn our attention to golf in the new year.

It's comforting to know that the PGA Tour still begins its season at Kapalua with its tournament of champions, sponsored for the first time by the Seoul Broadcasting System (sehe bok manee bateuseyo, Happy New Year in Korean), followed by the Sony Open in Hawai'i next week at the Waialae Country Club.

Forget the irony that 2010 is the Year of the Tiger, according to the Chinese lunar calendar. Not that Tiger Woods ever golfs here anymore. He has been a no-show at Kapalua since 2005, probably got tired of getting beat by Stuart Appleby, and has never played the PGA event at Waialae. His last local sighting was at Po'ipū Bay, Kaua'i, when he won the 2006 PGA Grand Slam of Golf. Since then, both Tiger and the PGA Grand Slam have left the building.

It's nice to know, too, that the PGA Champions Tour is still alive and kicking in the 50th State with the Wendy's Champions Skins Game at Royal Ka'anapali and the season-opening Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualālai later this month.

The only bummer is that there are no LPGA tournaments this year, especially now that 2010 could be Michelle's year in women's golf. It's the first time since 2005 that Hawai'i hasn't hosted an LPGA event.

The last sponsor to pull the plug was the Seoul Broadcasting System, which had fronted the money for the SBS Open at Turtle Bay, which opened the LPGA season for the past five years.

Actually, it was the LPGA that pulled the plug on the South Korean television network, abruptly severing a 15-year relationship by signing a TV agreement with J Golf, a competing, but smaller, cable-TV company. It was like moving Tiffany's from Manhattan to Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, SBS International CEO Sang Chun told Golf World's Ron Sirak, who broke the story during the week of the last SBS Open in February.

SBS felt dissed by the LPGA but it sure landed on its feet by signing a 10-year deal with the PGA Tour with the season-opening SBS Championship starting today at the Kapalua Resort's Plantation Course. Talk about a huge upgrade SBS Championship, not simply the SBS Open. An elite, men's champions-only event instead of a regular women's tour event.

"I think it's fortunate in today's times to have a company like SBS step in with that type of commitment," said Gary Planos, Kapalua Resort's vice president of golf operations, when the South Korean company agreed to take over from Mercedes-Benz as the sponsor. It also helps the Sony Open, said Planos, because the majority of the 28 players in the SBS Championship will stick around for another week.

Kapalua is contracted only through 2011 as the host site, but PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said in a pre-tournament press conference that the tour and SBS would like to continue holding the season-opening event at the Maui resort. "Everybody involved wants the tournament to be here," Finchem said.

Especially the players, it seems. This year's field includes the four 2009 major champions Angel Cabrera (Masters), Lucas Glover (U.S. Open), Stewart Cink (British Open) and Y.E. Yang (PGA Championship). The sponsoring SBS has to be glad that Yang, who out-played Tiger in the final round of the PGA Championship, is in the field for the telecast back to South Korea. If he wins, Yang could claim the distinction of winning his second SBS Championship. He won the 2002 SBS Championship for his first career victory when it was a Korean PGA Tour event.

The four reigning major champions also will be playing next week at Waialae in what surely has to be the best field since Sony took over as title sponsor in 1999. With Ernie Els and Vijay Singh committing earlier this week, the past seven Sony Open champions, including Zach Johnson who won last year, are in the field for the tour's first full-field event.

What a way to start 2010. Too bad the LPGA isn't celebrating the new year with us.

Bill Kwon can be reached at billkwonrhs@aol.com