From ball-breaker to Olympic dreams – China’s lat­est young golf star

Manila Times - - Golf -

HONG KONG: He be­gan by driv­ing golf balls to de­struc­tion against a wall be­cause it was too cold to play out­side, but now China’s big-hit­ting No. 3 Yuan Yechun has an eye on the Tokyo Olympics.

As a 10-year-old, dur­ing the long sub-zero win­ters that grip his na­tive Dalian in north­ern China, the only prac­tice avail­able was in the rel­a­tive warmth of a small room just a few me­tres long.

The young Yuan, who likes to be known as ‘Carl’, would spend all day bust­ing his balls.

The drill, pum­melled into him by a “su­per strict” Ja­panese coach, helped him de­velop the power off the tee that has pro­pelled him to be­ing China’s num­ber three, de­spite only turn­ing pro­fes­sional six weeks ago. It served him well. “I’d just pick a golf ball and be hit­ting to­wards the wall,” Yuan, 21, told AFP be­fore the pro-am for this week’s Clearwater Bay Open in Hong Kong, the sea­so­nend­ing event of the PGA Tour

Se­ries China.

“At the be­gin­ning of the day there’d be like a lit­tle crack on the golf ball.

“All I would try to do is hit the ball as hard as I could and break it into two -- you can learn to hit it straight when you get older,” said Yuan, whose av­er­age carry off the tee with a driver tops 300 yards, putting him amongst the long­est hit­ters around.

“Us­ing mus­cles and power to get the ball far is an abil­ity you’ve got to learn at a younger age.”

In Au­gust, Yuan won an Asian Games team sil­ver medal for

an am­a­teur, but he had al­ready made his mark among the pros. of Wash­ing­ton stu­dent in elite com­pany as just the sec­ond am­a­teur to win on the PGA Tour China Se­ries, af­ter his Asian Games team­mate Cheng Jin who won at the Nine Dragons Open in 2014.

Pro­mo­tion to the US PGA Tour’s sec­ond- string Web. com Tour is stake for the top money win­ners on the Chi­nese tour, mak­ing it a po­ten­tial ca­reer path­way to the sport’s high­est lev­els.

China has pro­duced sev­eral promis­ing young golfers in re­cent years, in­clud­ing Li Hao­tong who was player of the year on the in­au­gu­ral PGA Tour Se­ries China in 2014 and now plays on the Eu­ro­pean Tour.

“Be­ing away from my coun­try for seven or eight years liv­ing in the United States was a good ex­pe­ri­ence but be­ing able to play for my coun­try is a big­ger hon­our than any­thing,” said Yuan, who went to high school in Florida.

“That’s why I turned pro at this time with two years to go un­til the Olympics. If I could play in that it would top 25 of the PGA Tour China Se­ries money list af­ter just four count­ing events.

He kicked off with sec­ond place at the Suzhou Open and has had two other top 10s since.

A first pro­fess i o n a l win at Clearwater Bay this week would see him end the sea­son in the top 10, de­spite hav­ing been able to bank prize money from

2018 tour.

Even more re­mark­ably, Yuan has shot to 520th in the world from out­side the top 2,000 at the start of the year and is now ranked be­hind only mul­ti­ple Eu­ro­pean Tour win­ners Li (ranked 54th) and Wu Ashun (171st) among China’s golfers.

“It a lit­tle more than I ex­pected how fast I moved up the rank­ings,” he ad­mit­ted.

“I’m mov­ing to­wards the right di­rec­tion and if I play as best as I can I have a good chance to be in the top two (in China) to play in the Olympics in two years’ time.”

Yuan’s at­tack­ing, no- holds­barred game is ex­cit­ing to watch and he is tipped to go all the way to the top by many, in­clud­ing PGA Tour China Se­ries ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Greg Carl­son.

“He’s a great player and I think he’s got all the skillsets to ad­vance to web.com and hope­fully to PGA Tour,” Carl­son said.

“He’s got a big fu­ture ahead in play­ing higher level golf, for sure.”

AFP PHOTO

Chi­nese golfer Yuan ‘Carl’ Yechun, 21, watches the ball af­ter tak­ing a shot dur­ing the Pro-Am of the Clearwater Bay Open golf tour­na­ment in Hong Kong.

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