He­nan na­tive be­comes PGA Tour’s first-ever Chi­nese main­land player

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By CHINA DAILY

Marty Dou Zecheng on Sun­day be­came the first Chi­nese main­land player to win on the Web.com Tour and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, the first to earn a PGA Tour card.

In a 36-hole fi­nal-day marathon at Nick­laus Golf Club at Over­land Park, Kansas, the 20-year-old from He­nan prov­ince carded 61-66 for a 25-un­der to­tal of 259, good for a three-stroke vic­tory at the Dig­i­tal Ally Open.

“I was talk­ing to my team and I didn’t know if I needed to keep prac­tis­ing or get more ex­pe­ri­ence on the Web.com Tour in­stead of try­ing to get to the PGA Tour so fast,” said Dou, an IMG client. “I never thought I could win this year.”

Be­fore his vic­tory, the for­mer PGA Tour China Or­der of Merit win­ner had one top10 fin­ish and was No 53 on the money list. Now Dou is headed to the promised land of the PGA Tour af­ter earn­ing a first­place prize of $117,000.

“It’s a big honor to rep­re­sent China and come play in the United States,” he said. “Play­ing and learn­ing from the best, com­pet­ing and earn­ing my Tour card, it feels amaz­ing right now.”

Dou’s game has evolved since turn­ing pro in 2014. Dou com­peted on PGA Tour China the past two sea­sons. In 2016, he recorded four wins on his way to win­ning the Or­der of Merit, in­clud­ing a vic­tory at the He­nan Open in front of friends and fam­ily.

“That was ev­ery­thing,” said Dou about his time on PGA Tour China. “As an am­a­teur I was play­ing on PGA Tour China in a cou­ple of events. Just try­ing to grow my con­fi­dence and work on my skills while learn­ing.

“Then, the sec­ond year, when I turned pro, I fin­ished fourth on the money list and came to Q School and didn’t play well enough to make it.

“And the third year I played in China and won. It was a big break­through for me. I am now more pre­pared than I was.”

Dou and fel­low coun­try­man Zhang Xin­jun have been trav­el­ing to­gether this sea­son and com­pet­ing every week to try and earn their Tour card. While Dou was still a lit­tle shell-shocked af­ter his maiden Web.com Tour win, he un­der­stood the im­por­tance of this tri­umph and what it meant for his coun­try.

“It’s go­ing to be pretty big,” said Dou about the vic­tory. “We’ve been talk­ing to the Chi­nese me­dia this year about a Chi­nese player po­ten­tially get­ting to the PGA Tour and how soon will they get their card, and I just did it here. It just hap­pened!”

Dou’s charge came in the third round where he recorded a 10-un­der score to take the 54-hole lead. He at­tacked the Jack Nick­laus-de­signed course with pre­ci­sion iron play, hit­ting 14 of 18 greens and mak­ing 23 putts.

“The 61 beat my record by two shots,” said Dou, who bested his low­est score on Tour by four strokes. “It was amaz­ing. I did ev­ery­thing per­fect. I don’t know what to say. I feel like my game is in pretty good shape.”

En­ter­ing the fi­nal round, Dou felt the pres­sure of try­ing to earn his first ti­tle. He parred the first five holes and then set­tled in with a birdie at six, a hole he played in 3-un­der for the week. Dou added birdies at holes seven, 10, 14 and 15 to take con­trol of the tour­na­ment.

“I was pretty ner­vous the first five holes,” he said. “I couldn’t get my iron shots in the right di­rec­tion and was left with some long putts. Then af­ter my first two birdies, all the way to the end I wasn’t ner­vous any­more. I just felt like if I played my best I could win this.

“I started think­ing dur­ing the round if I win, what could I get,” he con­tin­ued. “I still want to do bet­ter than this. I want to carry this into the rest of the sea­son.”

With Li Hao­tong’s third­place fin­ish at the Bri­tish Open, and Dou and Zhang cur­rently in­side the top 25 on the money list, China now boasts a crop of ris­ing stars ready to rep­re­sent their coun­try on golf ’s grand­est stage.

Founded in 1990, and owned and op­er­ated by the PGA Tour, the Web.com Tour iden­ti­fies those play­ers who are ready to com­pete and win on golf’s big­gest stage.

In 2013, the Web.com Tour be­came the path to the PGA Tour, with all 50 avail­able cards com­ing through the Web.com Tour and the sea­son cul­mi­nat­ing at the four-event Web.com Tour Fi­nals.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Dou Zecheng holds the win­ner’s tro­phy af­ter his his­toric vic­tory at the Dig­i­tal Ally Open in Kansas on Sun­day. The 20-year-old be­came the first Chi­nese main­land player to win on the Web.com Tour and the first to earn a PGA Tour card.

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