De­spite curbs, Chi­nese play­ers emerge on world golf scene

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

When Chi­nese golfer Li Hao­tong once dreamt about mak­ing head­lines, he prob­a­bly wasn’t en­vis­ag­ing the mock­ing re­cent cov­er­age of his mother wad­ing into a wa­ter haz­ard to re­trieve his club. Li, who turns 22 to­day, can gig­gle now be­cause it’s his game that’s mak­ing the news, af­ter a star­tling per­for­mance at the Bri­tish Open saw him touted as a po­ten­tial ma­jor-win­ner.

Li’s suc­cess at Royal Birk­dale pre­ceded the his­toric achieve­ment of his be­spec­ta­cled coun­try­man Dou Zecheng, who won on the Web.com Tour on Sun­day to be­come the first Chi­nese to earn a PGA Tour play­ing card. China has long been viewed as the next great fron­tier for emerg­ing golf ta­lent, but that vi­sion has been slow to ma­te­ri­alise, at least in the men’s game.

But golfers such as Li and Dou, 20, are at the fore­front of a new gen­er­a­tion of tal­ented young Chi­nese play­ers wait­ing to break out. Their emer­gence comes de­spite the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s am­biva­lent at­ti­tude to­wards golf, which was banned un­der Mao Ze­dong and is tra­di­tion­ally viewed as bour­geois.

On the one hand, Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties have shut dozens of golf cour­ses-many of them il­le­gal-and curbed new con­struc­tion, while also warn­ing Com­mu­nist Party mem­bers about play­ing the game. But on the other, big tour­na­ments such as the $9.75-mil­lion WGC-HSBC Cham­pi­ons in Shang­hai, one of the world’s rich­est golf events, are a reg­u­lar fix­ture.

None of this is the con­cern of Hu­nan na­tive Li, who had to con­tend with em­bar­rass­ment in June af­ter the video of his mother, knee-deep in wa­ter, swept the in­ter­net.

“Don’t re­mind me, please,” the of­ten-smil­ing Li told re­porters later. Frus­trated at a poor shot at the French Open, Li launched the club into a murky pond, only for his mother to roll up her trousers to go and fetch it. As fel­low play­ers watched on in hys­ter­ics-ap­par­ently un­aware it was Li’s mother-she fished out the club, only to toss it back in af­ter re­al­is­ing it was snapped.

The in­ci­dent did noth­ing to harm Li, who reg­is­tered China’s best per­for­mance in a ma­jor af­ter his fi­nal round of 63 at the Bri­tish Open placed him third and earned him a spot at the Mas­ters. “It’s kind of a dream come true,” said Li, who is 66th in the world rank­ings and has been qui­etly mak­ing a name for him­self in re­cent years

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