By Patrick Johnston
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Two Asian Tour golfers say they have been made to feel like traitors by fellow competitors for challenging the circuit's policy to fine members who play on the rival OneAsia Tour.
Malaysian Danny Chia and Guido Van der Valk of Netherlands have both incurred penalties for playing in OneAsia Tour events and told Reuters that their vocal opposition to the Asian Tour's policy has made life tough since.
Van der Valk has gone one stage further and, together with Australians Terry Pilkadaris and Matthew Griffin and Malaysian Anis Helmi Hassan, has lodged a case in a Singapore court claiming restraint of trade. The verdict is expected later this year.
"It's been interesting," Van der Valk, flashing a coy smile, told Reuters on the sidelines of this week's Singapore Open, where he missed the cut.
"You know when you don't agree with something, and you are kind of forced into doing something like we did as players, you won't be in the good books with management and that is where we are."
Van der Valk and his colleagues are unhappy with the original $5,000 fine that was increased to $10,000 this year as they believe they should be allowed to play elsewhere if the Asian Tour does not stage a tournament that week.
The Asian Tour have been keen to help their players on to the bigger European and PGA Tours, but have introduced fines to deter their members from playing on the rival OneAsia circuit.
"The fines are under the rules and regulations, agreed by the players, which have been enforced by the Asian Tour, a player-led organization," the Asian Tour told Reuters.
OneAsia launched their first season in 2009, promising $1 million events with full fields of Asian players. They now have 10 full-field stroke play events this year after starting with five in their first year.
Van der Valk incurred a $5,000 fine for playing in OneAsia events in 2010 but says he can no longer afford to take the risk of paying them, with the fines increased to $10,000, as he has no guarantees of making money from competing.
While world number one Rory McIlroy, who finished third in Singapore on Sunday, boasts multi-million dollar endorsement deals to further boost his vast earnings from tournaments, times are much tougher for the world number 583.
"There is just not a chance in the world that I could pay one fine so I have just stopped doing it. They have made it even worse than they had before," Van der Valk said.
"I finished fourth in Koh Samui and made $14,000 before tax, then you have your perspective of what $10,000 does to you," the Dutchman said of his display at the Asian Tour's Queen's Cup tournament in Thailand in June.
"You have your hotel, which is normally around $100-150 a day, and then your flight, and tournament entries - basically you are looking at between $2,000-3000 nowadays to play a golf tournament so every tournament you miss the cut you are $3,000 in the red."
The Dutchman, who lives in the Philippines, has played on the Asian Tour since 2005 and knows many of the players, but he said since bringing the lawsuit he often eats alone at events and is made to feel like an outcast.
"A lot of people are neutral, there are a few people they are aggressively against. I have a feeling they (the Asian Tour) are trying to talk to the players to go against you.
"I'm quite intrigued that other players would have a view that I'm doing wrong.
"You have to earn your money somehow and if people stop you from playing and earning a living there is not a chance in the world that everyone is going to accept that because it is just not right.
"You can't say to someone 'we don't have anything to offer you but you aren't allowed to go somewhere else'. What kind of idea is that?," added the Dutchman, who won $68,261 on the Asian Tour last year.
Chia took a chance and paid the $10,000 fine for playing in OneAsia's $1 million Thailand Open in August but the gamble failed to pay off as the Malaysian missed the cut.
He defended his decision to go and play on the rival circuit after the Asian Tour had a two-month window without an event from June.
"As a player we just want to play as many tournaments as we can," Chia, who finished 68th in Singapore, told Reuters.
"Asian Tour is pretty much asking for loyalty from everybody as far as I'm concerned the OneAsia event I played the same week there was nothing on the Asian Tour.
"It is $1 million event it is quite good money so I can't see any reason why I shouldn't play. I can't see why they should fine the player because it is our livelihood. I don't see any Tour in the world that has this restriction on their players."
While some may argue that is a reasonable justification, some on the Asian Tour, which has 27 events this year, are not happy.
"Of course, some of the players on the Asian Tour look at me as a traitor, the way they talk. 'You shouldn't play, why should you play?'," Chia said.
"Even like this right now, if this thing goes out they are going to hate me for saying things that are not loyal to the Tour."
(Reporting by Patrick Johnston; editing by Amlan Chakraborty)