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Published: 11:58, December 01, 2023 | Updated: 11:58, December 01, 2023
Aiming high on Hainan's fairways
By China Daily
Published:11:58, December 01, 2023 Updated:11:58, December 01, 2023 By China Daily

Chinese golfer Liu Wenbo warms up for the CGA Ladies Championship at Mission Hills Resort Haikou, south China's Hainan province on Nov 30, 2023. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CGA LADIES CHAMPIONSHIPS / XINHUA)

Liu Wenbo is back in China looking to turn around her game in more familiar confines after a disappointing season on the Epson Tour in the United States.

Speaking before the start of Friday's CGA Ladies Championship, a China LPGA Tour event at Mission Hills Resort Haikou on Hainan island, the 22-year-old is coming off a season where she made only one halfway cut in nine events on the Epson Tour, a feeder circuit for the LPGA Tour.

Liu, a three-time winner on the CLPGA circuit, described her American campaign as "chaos".

"I worked with more than one coach. I was all ears when they taught and changed something in my swing all the time. Finally, I fell into disorder and struggled on the tour. My miserable money ranking shows how I hit the lowest point in my career," she said.

I don't have any goal. I just want to justify that what I did work on is right. I still want to go back to the US next year. I will play in China and improve my world ranking, which could exempt me from the second stage of US LPGA Q-School.

Liu Wenbo, Chinese golfer

After losing her card, the Beijinger returned home to work with Scotsman Michael Dickie, a longtime Shanghai-based golf professional, who helped to restore her confidence.

"Michael helped me analyze what I was in urgent need of changing. Obviously, I made progress with some good advice that he gave me. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I had no tournament to prove what I learned from him. That's why I'm here.

"I don't have any goal. I just want to justify that what I did work on is right. I still want to go back to the US next year. I will play in China and improve my world ranking, which could exempt me from the second stage of US LPGA Q-School."

Trending in the opposite direction is Liu's fellow Epson Tour alumni Michelle Zhang Yunxuan.

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The Dallas-based Chinese is coming off an excellent rookie campaign where she made 12 of 13 cuts, her best being a tie for third at the Guardian Championship in September. A month later, she finished tied-eighth at the Epson Tour Championship.

Chinese golfer Zhang Yunxuan warms up for the CGA Ladies Championship at Mission Hills Resort Haikou, south China's Hainan province on Nov 30, 2023. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CGA LADIES CHAMPIONSHIPS / XINHUA)

"I played decent on the Epson Tour. However, there is some disappointment, such as not being able to win, being close to contention and not being able to finish the job," said Zhang, who turned 19 on Wednesday.

"This is my first CLPGA event, and pretty much my first Chinese professional event. I chose to play because a few of my friends won here in the past. And seeing them being able to win, this was a huge milestone in their career.

"I hope that coming back home can potentially help me achieve a first professional win. Next year I want to finish top-10 on the Epson Tour and get my LPGA card."

I have never been good at setting a long-term goal. One after one short objective suits me better. Hopefully my mind can stay focused on the here and now, do everything right with my hands and play my best.

Sui Xiang, Chinese golfer

With order of merit leader Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong skipping the event and No 2 Zeng Liqi in the US attempting to earn an LPGA Tour card, Ji Yuai and Sui Xiang both have a chance to vault to the top of the money list with victory this weekend.

Ji, currently third on the money list, arrives in Hainan on the back of a strong rookie season. The 18-year-old finished runner-up in both Beijing and Singapore and was seventh at last month's Zhangjiagang Shuangshan Challenge.

The teenager expressed her gratitude to the China Golf Association for its organization of all the junior events she participated in as an amateur, which she believes helped with her successful step-up to the pro ranks.

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"I would be really happy if I can pick up my maiden pro win at the (CGA's) namesake championship," said Ji, who hails from Dalian, Liaoning province. "The US LPGA has been my long-term goal since I was a little child. But any long and ambitious journey can be covered only by taking one step at a time. I need to capture my first win, and then the CLPGA money title, before chasing my dream on the US LPGA Tour."

Chinese golder Sui Xiang warms up for the CGA Ladies Championship at Mission Hills Resort Haikou, south China's Hainan province on Nov 30, 2023. (PHOTO COURTESY OF CGA LADIES CHAMPIONSHIPS / XINHUA)

Sui, who captured her second CLPGA Tour win at the Tianjin Ladies Challenge in April, is coming off a runner-up finish in Zhangjiagang where she was a stroke behind surprise winner Tan Lingling. Sui is currently fourth on the money list.

"The money title is the most coveted feather in the cap for all players on this tour. I have thought about it more than once, but I don't want to think about it too much," said the Guangdong native. "I have never been good at setting a long-term goal. One after one short objective suits me better. Hopefully my mind can stay focused on the here and now, do everything right with my hands and play my best."

This week's tournament has a distinct Australian flavor as Mission Hill's Sandbelt Trails, a 5,776-meter, par-72 layout, was built in a style inspired by that country's famed Sandbelt, home to such courses as Kingston Heath and Royal Melbourne.

The Schmidt-Curley design features large bunkers dominated by high sand flashes, large greens with plenty of undulation and square tee boxes. The gently rolling terrain can be wide in spots allowing for many different angles of attack to the greens.

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"This kind of grass is different from what I play week in, week out," said Sui. "The green speed is different, too. The wind might be another factor this week."

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