In the swing

Golf is mak­ing huge strides all across Asia, and the new wave of tal­ent is be­ing led by teenage prodi­gies who are on the brink of achiev­ing in­ter­na­tional great­ness

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

Golf makes huge strides in Asia, with a new wave of tal­ent led by teenage prodi­gies.

Guan Tian­lang of­fered a tan­ta­liz­ing glimpse of the fu­ture this year as a group of emerg­ing teens showed how Chi­nese play­ers could fi­nally be­come a force in world golf.

De­spite some dif­fi­cul­ties in a “year of con­sol­i­da­tion” for Asia, Guan pro­vided hope of bet­ter times to come with a stun­ning ap­pear­ance at the US Mas­ters.

The Guangzhou school­boy be­came the tour­na­ment’s youngest player ever at age 14, and then the youngest to make the cut and the high­est fin­ish­ing am­a­teur.

With Andy Zhang also com­pet­ing at last year’s US Open aged 14, and Ye Wocheng play­ing a Euro­pean Tour event at the record-low age of 12, it seems some­thing is stir­ring in Chi­nese golf.

Golf in China has made huge strides over the past decade and the coun­try now hosts one of the world’s rich­est tour­na­ments, the $8.5 mil­lion WGC-HSBC Cham­pi­ons.

Un­til now, play­ers in the com­mu­nist coun­try, where golf was once banned as a bour­geois pur­suit, have lagged be­hind, with just a hand­ful ranked in the world’s top 1,000.

But China’s new group of teenagers, backed by well-heeled “Tiger Dads” and trained by some of the world’s best coaches — of­ten with the 2016 Olympics in mind — could be the start of some­thing big.

“I think peo­ple get­ting to see (Guan) play around the world, es­pe­cially the Mas­ters, is great for the game,” said Amer­i­can pro Rickie Fowler.

Fowler was the No 1 ranked am­a­teur in the world for 36 weeks in 2007 and 2008.

“And there’s go­ing to be, prob­a­bly in the next 10 to 15 years, some good play­ers com­ing out of China, more so than what there has been be­fore.”

Women’s golf has long been dom­i­nated by Asian play­ers, but another teenager stole the head­lines this year in the form of New Zea­land’s South Kore­an­born Ly­dia Ko, 16.

Ko, al­ready the world No 4, has been win­ning pro­fes­sional tour­na­ments since the age of 14, when she be­came the youngest player of ei­ther sex to do so.

Af­ter miss­ing out on mil­lions of dol-

And there’s go­ing to be, prob­a­bly in the next 10 to 15 years, some good play­ers com­ing out of China, more so than what there has been be­fore.”

RICKIE FOWLER US PRO GOLFER

lars in prize money due to her am­a­teur sta­tus, Ko an­nounced her long-awaited de­ci­sion to turn pro on YouTube in Oc­to­ber. She won her first event as a pro­fes­sional this month in Tai­wan.

On Mon­day, Ko said she had fired coach Guy Wil­son af­ter 11 years to­gether be­cause he could not de­vote enough time to her ca­reer on the pro­fes­sional tour next year.

Wil­son, who had coached Ko since she was five years old, said he was “in­cred­i­bly dis­ap­pointed” at the split, which comes less than two weeks af­ter Ko signed with man­age­ment gi­ant IMG.

Ko said she re­mains friends with Wil­son but the coach had com­mit­ments in New Zea­land that would limit his chances to travel on tour with her next year.

She will re­port­edly work with Bri­tish coach David Lead­bet­ter, who also has Ko’s IMG sta­ble­mate Michelle Wie on his books.

World No 1 Park In-bee was named player of the year on the back of six wins this sea­son, while Tseng Ya-ni of Chi­nese Taipei fell off the top rank­ing and plunged to 29.

Off the course, it was in some re­spects a tough sea­son for Asian golf, with tour­na­ments drop­ping off what has be­come a con­gested cal­en­dar.

The Sin­ga­pore Open — once dubbed “Asia’s ma­jor” — took a break while it searches for a ti­tle spon­sor and the Hong Kong Open strug­gled on with­out cor­po­rate back­ing.

The Avan­tha Mas­ters, In­dia’s only Euro­pean Tour event, fell vic­tim to eco­nomic woes, and the OneAsia cir­cuit dropped two events: the Char­ity High1 Re­sort Open and the in­au­gu­ral OneAsia Cham­pi­onship.

The Asian Tour, locked in a bit­ter turf war with OneAsia and seek­ing new mar­kets, also post­poned the in­au­gu­ral Viet­nam Mas­ters, which was due to be its first event in the coun­try.

With two ri­val cir­cuits and ex­pan­sion into the re­gion by the US PGA Tour and the Euro­pean Tour, it is no sur­prise some events are be­ing squeezed out.

“While there are new spon­sors out there, get­ting them on board, cer­tainly in Asia, is not easy,” said David Parkin, OneAsia di­rec­tor of tour op­er­a­tions.

One Asia separately called it “a year of con­sol­i­da­tion ... for the in­dus­try in gen­eral.”

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