After losing his card after one season on the European Tour in 2011, Woburn-based tour pro Steve Lewton turned his attentions to the fledgling Asian Tour in 2012 and has been happily plying his trade on this fast-growing circuit ever since. Golf News editor Nick Bayly caught up with the 40-year-old ahead of the Asian Tour’s two-stop swing in the UK to find out what life is like on a tour that has been thrust into the media spotlight following its sponsorship by the same Saudi-backed investment fund as LIV Golf
It must feel a little strange to back playing in the UK and competing against many of the same guys that you grew up competing against in your early days on the European Tour?
Yeah, it is really nice to be playing a couple of events back in the UK. Before I competed in the Asian Tour event held at Slaley Hall last autumn, the last time I had played in a tournament in the UK was at the British Masters at Woburn in 2015. That feels like a long time ago now.
It has been nice to catch up with a few familiar faces, as there aren’t many English players who regularly compete on the Asian Tour. Although I live in the UK, and am still a member at Woburn, I obviously spend a lot of my season travelling around the Middle East, Indonesia and the Far East, so to have 3-4 weeks back in the UK over the summer has given me an opportunity to catch up with a few old friends and my family.
What were the main challenges of playing the Asian Tour when you first started out?
When I first joined in 2012 I thought that the travelling would be the hardest part, but the European Tour, as it was known then, operated a pretty global schedule, so I was used to dealing with time zones, long haul flights, hotels and all that stuff, but it’s more the different course conditions and variety of grasses you have to play on each week that is the real challenge. That, and the weather. You never really play on a similar style of greens for more than two weeks in-a-row. Some are super quick and some super slow, so that took some getting used to. I also had to deal with the variety of weather when I first arrived. Playing in 100 degrees with 100% humidity was a big change.
The off-course stuff didn’t bother me so much. I’m not a fussy eater, so that was never an issue for me, and I like to experience new places and new cultures, so I’ve really enjoyed trying out different foods, meeting new people and seeing new things. It’s certainly been an interesting journey, and I’m happy with the decisions I’ve made.
What’s the most challenging thing you’ve eaten on your golfing travels?
I remember playing out in China a few years ago and the hotel I was staying in had a dish of fried chicken with broccoli and rice on the menu and I thought I could cope with that. It turned out that the chicken element was just its feet. I know they’re something of a delicacy in China, but it was a bit of a surprise. The rice and broccoli were nice though!
You won the Taiwan Masters back in 2014, and have had plenty of top-10 finishes over the last decade, but do you think you have another win in the locker?
Yeah, I hope so. I’ve had a few close shaves. I finished second in the Indonesia Open last month – and was also second at the same event last year – so I have been knocking on the door of late. I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well for the last couple of seasons, without having too much to show for it, but I know that on my day I compete with the best.
I showed that at the Saudi Invitational last year when I finished fourth in a field that contained the likes of Dustin Johnson, Xander Schauffele, Cameron Smith, Patrick Reed and Shane Lowry. I really enjoyed playing against those guys as it got the competitive juices flowing and really made me want to show that I belonged on that kind of stage. It also showed how far away you are from where you want to be.
It’s very competitive out here now, even more so in the elevated events where we’ve had current major champions in the field and a lot of the LIV Golf players trying to stay competitive between their events. So you have to have all parts of your game working well to get on the leaderboard, let alone think about winning.
What are the main strengths of your game?
The best part of my game is generally my iron play. I’m pretty straight off the tee, and I find a lot of greens in regulation, but it depends how close I can get it to the pins. As I said, putting can be a bit tricky when you’re playing on so many different speeds of surfaces, but it is the same for everyone.
Have that bigger prize funds and the incentive of earning promotion to the LIV Golf circuit put extra pressure on you when you’re teeing it up?
You’re just trying to play golf at the end of the day, and shoot the lowest score you can, so while it’s obviously nice to be playing for more money, it’s not something you really think about when you’re out their grinding down the stretch.
The Asian Tour has 20-odd events this season, compared to the 40-plus on offer on the DP World Tour. Are you happy with amount of tournament time you’re getting?
In an ideal world, I’d probably like to play between 20-25 events in a season. That’s plenty when you factor in all the travelling and the times that you have to stay out between events to avoid spending all your time flying. It’s tiring, both physically and mentally, so I’m pretty pleased with the overall balance. There are some periods where we have gaps in the schedule and it’s not easy to keep your game in shape, but we’re all in the same boat.
With the Asian Tour swinging into the UK this month with events at Close House and St Andrews Bay, do you feel like you have any sort of advantage over some of the other Asian Tour players when you’re competing here?
Not hugely. I have played both courses before, so I have that, but most of these guys are well travelled and used to playing in all sorts of conditions. Yes, some of them might not have played much links golf, which we will face in St Andrews Bay, but then I’ve not played much myself over the last 10 years or so, so it evens itself out. There are also a lot more European and English players competing in these events, due to a break in the LIV schedule, so the competition will be even stronger.
Do you use local caddies when you’re playing on tour or do you have a regular bagman?
When I first started out on the Asian Tour I’d often use a local guy, as they were cheap and they knew the layout better than anyone I knew, so that worked out fine for the first couple of years, but as you get to know the courses you want someone you can chat to rather than just a local caddy. I had a guy called Joe, who is from Thailand, who caddied for me for a while, and I’ve currently got my friend Simon Griffiths on the bag. He’s a pro himself and used to play on tour.
What do you sense the world of professional golf will look like once the dust has settled on the LIV Golf/PGA Tour/DP World Tour alliance?
Honestly, I’d have no idea. I have no idea what the PGA Tour, DP World Tour or all the other tours are going to look like next year, let alone in the years ahead. I don’t even know if they know. It sounds like LIV is not going to disappear anytime soon, as the Saudi PIF seem committed to it, and the guys that are on the LIV tour seem to be enjoying it, so it will be interesting to see how it pans out.
It’s certainly a goal of mine to get on the LIV tour. The winner of the 2023 Asian Tour money list gets an automatic card for the next LIV season, so that’s certainly one of my main goals this year. I’m currently just outside the top 10, so it’s a realistic target if I have a strong second part to the season.
Do you see yourself ever returning to the DP World Tour?
I would never say never, but I’m very happy competing on the Asian Tour, and now that we have the carrot of earning a spot on the LIV Golf circuit there is even more reason to stay in my lane.
I did have two seasons on the Korn Ferry Tour in the States in 2019-20, but that was during Covid, and travelling back and forth from the UK to compete made things tough, so that didn’t really work out for me as I wasn’t able to practice much in the UK and the guys over there were out playing all the time.
With the boosted prize funds – many of which are bigger than DP World Tour events – and the stronger fields, I feel like the Asian Tour is the right place for me to be right now.
What equipment are you currently playing with and how do you keep on top of things on that front?
I’ve got a mix of Ping and Titleist clubs. I’ve got the Ping G430 driver and fairway woods, and the Ping i430 irons. Whenever Ping brings something new out that I like the look of I will go up to their Gainsborough HQ and get fitted for it. My caddy’s brother is Ping’s head tour rep in Europe, so they look after me very well.
The Asian Tour’s International Series England is being held at Close House in Newcastle from August 17-20, and the St Andrews Bay Championship is being staged at St Andrews Bay in Scotland from August 24-27. For more details, visit www.asiantour.com.