Marty Dou

Turn­ing Pro at 17

Golf Digest Middle East - - Contents -

Turn­ing pro at 17. with max adler

Last sea­son, only 10 golfers played all 22 events on the Web.com Tour, and I was one. Be­cause I didn’t have a home in the United States, it was al­ways eas­ier to go to the next event and prac­tice. I re­ally had only two good weeks, but one was a win in Kansas worth $117,000, which helped me get my 2018 PGA Tour card. The depth of com­pe­ti­tion has been an ad­just­ment, but maybe I can be the first Chi­nese golfer to win on the PGA Tour.

i don’t wear a hat, which maybe makes me look younger than i am— 21.

Sev­eral times I’ve had vol­un­teers tell me to step off a tee box and go be­hind the ropes. I have to ex­plain to them that I’m play­ing in the tour­na­ment. This would bother some pros, but I find it funny.

my english is good be­cause my fam­ily lived in van­cou­ver when i was age 4 un­til 9.

My sis­ter and I shared a tu­tor for read­ing and writ­ing Chi­nese, but oth­er­wise we were reg­u­lar Cana­dian kids. On my first day of kinder­garten, the teacher had trou­ble pro­nounc­ing my first name— Zecheng—so she sug­gested Martin or Marty. I said I liked the sec­ond one.

my dad would take me to a course called green acres to hang with his friends.

The range was just a net you hit into, but my dad signed me up for lessons with the pro. We’d roll the ball, kick it and throw it, do any­thing to make golf fun. It wasn’t un­til we moved back to China, to ac­com­mo­date my dad’s busi­ness in­ter­ests, that I started to take the game se­ri­ously.

in china, you’re less likely to know your neigh­bors.

At school, kids get the mind-set early that you must suc­ceed at ev­ery level to get a good job. When my dad took busi­ness trips to Amer­ica, he’d bring me along and en­ter me in tour­na­ments like the U.S. Kids Golf World Cham­pi­onship in Pinehurst, N.C. I thought this was a lit­tle crazy; I re­ally wasn’t that good, but I think he liked the idea of in­cor­po­rat­ing my hobby into his travel.

classes at my school ran from 7: 30 to 4: 30, with tons of home­work.

When I was in ninth grade, my dad called the prin­ci­pal and told her I would start leav­ing school early to fo­cus on golf. The prin­ci­pal was a famous and in­tim­i­dat­ing ed­u­ca­tor, but she agreed I should fol­low my pas­sion. My friends were jeal­ous when I started leav­ing af­ter lunch, but hit­ting bucket af­ter bucket off syn­thetic mats was my home­work. In a way, I was jeal­ous of them. My fa­ther hired a driver to pick me up from school and take me to the range, but we could not af­ford green fees, which were very ex­pen­sive at all of the cour­ses around us.

look­ing at my par­ents, you might not guess we’re an ath­letic fam­ily.

But my sis­ter also en­joyed shorter days in high school so she could pur­sue artis­tic gym­nas­tics. She reached a high level of government sup­port, but she stopped com­pet­ing and is now en­rolled at Columbia Univer­sity in New York. She was al­ways a bit bet­ter at bal­anc­ing train­ing with aca­demics.

my golf game trans­formed in one month when i was 14.

A golf buddy’s dad found a coach in Amer­ica who could su­per­vise us at Mor­gan Run Club & Re­sort out­side San Diego. Along with a third buddy, our dads agreed to split the cost of on-course ac­com­mo­da­tion and the coach’s pay. From sun­rise to sun­set, we played, prac­ticed, worked out in the gym and had short-game con­tests. The course was kind of short, but I went from shoot­ing 74 or 75 to al­most al­ways shoot­ing 67 or 68. My dad flew in and took me to the Call­away Ju­nior World Cham­pi­onship at Tor­rey Pines. I won my age group. My dad didn’t re­act. At the time, it felt like the great­est achieve­ment of my life, but in time I re­alised that fields aren’t al­ways as strong as they seem.

“My dad called the prin­ci­pal and told her I would start leav­ing school early to fo­cus on golf.”

dur­ing school breaks, i was re­cruited to train at the chi­nese na­tional golf team base in shen­zhen.

Un­til this point, the fi­nan­cial bur­den of my ath­letic ca­reer had fallen solely on my par­ents. The base was 36 holes with a ho­tel and some restau­rants in the mid­dle of nowhere, but it was per­fect. The cour­ses were good, and the grass range was stocked with Pro V1s. I was the best Ping-Pong player among all the men and women golfers, but our phys­i­cal trainer was un­beat­able.

the in­au­gu­ral sea­son of pga tour china was in 2014.

I won two am­a­teur tour­na­ments, at age 17, and turned pro. It was a hard de­ci­sion. I knew many Chi­nese golfers who’d been on the same path as me, who’d gone on to play col­lege golf in the United States, only to aban­don their dream of com­pet­ing for a liv­ing. Th­ese guys told me how eye­open­ing and fun the ex­pe­ri­ence of col­lege was, and that I ab­so­lutely had to go. But I know my­self. I’d be dis­tracted by par­ties and school and maybe sec­ond-guess my dream, too. You only have your life, so you can’t lis­ten to an­other per­son’s opin­ion on how to live.

play­ing for prize money didn’t get in my head.

I just wanted to ad­vance to the next stage. I viewed the suc­cess of each tour­na­ment in terms of that goal, not the size of my pay­check.

the top- five money- win­ners on pga tour china re­ceive full mem­ber­ship to the web. com tour, and in 2016 i fin­ished first.

I was lucky be­cause the next year our tour was can­celed be­cause of a lack of spon­sor­ship amid the government crack­down on golf. It was be­lieved many cor­rupt of­fi­cials were ac­cept­ing anony­mous club mem­ber­ships as bribes. As a golfer, it was sad to see cour­ses I knew be­ing torn down.

still, build­ing cour­ses legally will be bet­ter for the sport long- term.

Re­cently, I played a course that had crops planted on five fair­ways, as farm­ers had re­claimed the land. It looked so strange. We came to the tee and were like, Whoa, where

did the hole go? When there’s a neg­a­tive at­ti­tude about golf, it’s hard for kids to choose it as their sport. For me, what mat­ters is that I got to Amer­ica when I did, and PGA Tour China is run­ning again.

up to now, i’ve got­ten away with play­ing a high hook.

But PGA Tour cour­ses re­quire all the shots. My new coach, Cameron McCormick, says I’ve climbed Mount Ever­est with­out oxy­gen, and now I need to fig­ure out how to sur­vive at the sum­mit. We’re work­ing on con­trol­ling tra­jec­tory and study­ing my stats so that I can prac­tice ef­fi­ciently.

sure, life can be a lit­tle lonely out here.

My apart­ment in Dal­las doesn’t feel like home yet— just a place where I keep my stuff. When I get back from play­ing tour­na­ments, the first thing I usu­ally do is fire up my com­puter to play video games.

when­ever i have two weeks off, i go back to china to see my par­ents.

And my dogs. But this is my dream. I’ve made it this far be­cause I didn’t give my­self an­other op­tion.

—with max adler

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