Despite curbs, Chinese players emerge on world golf scene
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