Professional organizations, competitive atmosphere help elevate China’s young players
From left: Xu Guozhen, Jin Cheng and Luo Xuewen are part of the new generation of Chinese golfers pursuing their dream to compete on bigger stages through the PGA Tour Series-China. (PHOTO PROVIDED TO CHINA DAILY)
Compared to the generation of Chinese ace Li Haotong, now ranked No 35 in the world, the nation’s current crop of golf-loving kids enjoys a much better environment in which to pursue their dreams.
That is a result of the all-around support and preferential policies for junior golfers from local governments, the China Golf Association and the PGA Tour Series-China, which has become a springboard to the international stage for homegrown talent.
With promising graduates like Li and Zhang Xinjun, who last month won the Web.com Tour’s Dormie Network Classic in San Antonio, Texas, the PGA Tour Series-China is ramping up efforts to find and nurture more domestic stars.
The latest example is the series’ Beijing Championship, which invited a host of talented juniors to join its pro-am competition earlier this month at the capital’s Topwin Golf and Country Club.
“There are more and more Chinese junior players proving their talent, and we will see more success from them on the global stage,” Raymond Roessel, CEO of event organizer ShanKai Sports Golf, said in an exclusive interview with China Daily.
“We hope we can work with more schools in China, and we have been cooperating with Chinese courses. We have taken some tournament players to local schools, and we have been working with local golf associations and sports bureaus.”
Roessel said that while many provinces have put golf in schools, it is important for parents to understand the sport can teach important lessons in discipline, time management and teamwork. Young people can balance golf with their academic pursuits, he added.
“It’s not necessary to drop out of school to concentrate on sport. People want to use sports to make them successful, but the chances of becoming the next Tiger Woods are very low.”
Ten-year-old Xiao Kaili, who participated in the pro-am competition ahead of the Beijing Championship, understands Roessel’s perspective.
“My idol is Tiger Woods and I want to be a player just like him,” said Xiao, who first gripped a golf club at age 5.
“Now it’s kind of tricky to manage my time in order to finish my schoolwork and golf training.”
Xiao’s mother, Jia Ruoke, quit her job to devote more time to helping her daughter.
“During the summer she has to train at least five to six days a week,” said Jia. “Each day, we spend about 40 minutes just taking her to train after school.
“Years ago, when golf was not popular in China, nobody did that. Five years ago, a friend invited us to try golf and my daughter instantly fell for the sport. Now there are many kids like her who are starting to embrace it.”
The entire family is willing to create an atmosphere for Xiao to pursue her dream.
“We have taken my daughter to the US for golf training on every summer and winter vacation for three years,” said Jia.
Suitable training courses for junior players are lacking in China, and high-end courses like the Topwin Golf and Country Club are too upscale for kids. But Jia said the CGA has been working with clubs to provide preferential treatment for juniors, including fee discounts, and it even allows them to occasionally play for free.
“Just seeing those kids joining the pro-am, it’s obvious the game is growing in China,” said American David Kocher who won the Haikou Championship in Haikou, Hainan province, the third event of this year’s PGA Tour Series-China.
Since its inception in 2014, the PGA Tour Series-China awards cards to the Web.com Tour, which feeds new talent into the PGA Tour proper.
“Now you have Li Haotong ranked No 35 in the world; there are not many Chinese athletes of other sports who have achieved that kind of status,” said Roessel.
“If you take a look at the Chinese Super League (for soccer) and the CBA (Chinese Basketball Association), you know the potential of this country’s sports market. We see that same potential for golf.
“In the US, there are PGA Tour events in basically every major city. It’s our ambition to grow the China tour by having more events and increasing the price money.”
Zhang Xinjun and fellow PGA Tour Series-China graduate Dou Zecheng made history in 2017 when they became the first players from the Chinese mainland to earn PGA Tour cards.
“Nine players from China have won 16 of the 54 PGA Tour Series-China tournaments held over its history. To date, that’s the highest percentage among all countries represented on the PGA Tour Series-China,” said Greg Carlson, the tour’s executive director.
“We are honored to be a part of growing the game of golf in China, and all of us involved in golf bear this responsibility.”
HONG KONG NEWS