A new breed of young and ultra-talented Chinese golfers is now bursting on the global stage with much bravado.
As Chuah Choo Chiang writes, a new breed of young and ultra-talented Chinese golfers is now bursting on the global stage with much bravado.
During the Masters Tournament in 2008, Arnold Palmer’s eyes glistened after learning that China’s Liang Wen-chong was in the elite field at Augusta National. The American golf legend took great pride in the fact that Liang was a product of China’s first modern-day golf course, the Zhongshan Hotspring Golf Club, which Palmer designed and launched in 1984.
“I think it’s wonderful,” said Palmer of Liang’s presence then at the fabled tournament.
“I think we are only seeing the beginning of what is going to happen in China and Asia. I think it is going to be tremendous. I know that when I built the first modern golf course in China, that was it. And now there are hundreds of golf courses over in China, and that means millions of people there will have the opportunity to play golf.”
Palmer’s words are proving to be prophetic.
While Liang and Zhang Lian-wei have blazed the first trail for the professional game in China through their exploits on the Asian Tour, a new breed of young and ultra-talented golfers is now bursting on the global stage with much bravado.
A few years ago, 14-year-old amateur Guan Tian-lang made heads turn by becoming the youngest player to survive the halfway cut at the Masters Tournament. Fans should now remember two other Chinese names - Li Hao-tong and Dou Ze-cheng.
In what has been a summer to remember, Li and Dou, aged 22 and 20 respectively, delivered groundbreaking performances that pundits believe will provide another push towards Asia’s dream of heralding a second
Major champion following Y.E. Yang’s triumph at the 2009 PGA Championship.
Li, who is a product of the China Golf Association-HSBC Junior Golf Programme, finished an impressive third at The Open Championship following a barnstorming eight-under-par 63 in the final round at Royal Birkdale. In 2015, the likeable Li finished T7 at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions on home soil, tying the likes of Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed to signal his immense potential on the big stage.
The remarkable round, which included four closing birdies, may have been one shot higher than Branden Grace’s incredible 62 which now stands as the lowest score in a Major. However, Ernie Els, who played alongside the young Chinese in the final round, put Li’s effort into context.
“That’s not the same number as Gracie, but that’s as good a round,” said Els. “You could see he was not backing off. The wind was picking up too. 63 in a final round is an unbelievable round. Obviously, Branden has the record. What he did yesterday broke every record in the book. But today’s round for what it is as good as a round. It’s not the same number, but it’s the same quality golf.”
Seven days after Li’s heroics, the bespectacled Dou wrote another slice of history by becoming for the first mainland Chinese golfer to earn a PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.
Dou, who hails from Henan, broke into the top-25 of the Web.com money list after claiming a life-changing first US victory at the Digital Ally Open where he shot 15-under-par over the last two rounds.
“It’s a big honor to represent China and come play in the United States,” said Dou. “Playing and learning from the best, competing and earning my Tour card, it feels amazing right now.”
Like Li, Dou also cut his professional teeth on the PGA Tour China Series. Last year, he won four times en route to lifting the Order of Merit title which rewards the winner with playing rights on the Web.com Tour. He believes his game has improved and credited the PGA Tour China Series for shaping his early career.
“That was everything,” said Dou about his time on PGA Tour China Series. “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.
“It’s going to be pretty big. We’ve been talking to the Chinese media this year about a Chinese player potentially getting on to the PGA Tour. ‘How soon will they get their card?’… I just did it!”
The late Palmer would certainly be smiling from the heavens with the latest emergence of Li and Dou.
Chuah Choo Chiang is the Senior Director, Communications of PGA Tour and based in TPC Kuala Lumpur
"It's going to be pretty big. We've been talking to the Chinese media this year about a Chinese player potentially getting on to the PGA Tour. 'How soon will they get their card?'… I just did it!”
- Dou Ze-cheng
T8 at the 2010 USPGA Championship was the previous best finish in a Major by a Chinese golfer
Dou Ze-chen wrote another slice of history by becoming for the first mainland Chinese golfer to earn a PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour