Published: 10:59, June 21, 2024
Chinese prospect Zheng Joins pro ranks eyeing PGA Tour spot
By China Daily
Sampson Yunhe Zheng of China hits his shot from the third tee during the second round of the LIV Golf Promotions at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Dec 09, 2023 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. (PHOTO / AP)

China's Sampson Zheng Yunhe will take a swing at the professional ranks on the PGA Tour Americas this week, with a clear mission and a dream to play his way onto the PGA Tour and win the famous Masters green jacket.

The 22-year-old Zheng recently graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, and finished a creditable 14th on PGA Tour University, a program designed to identify the best college golfers in the United States, providing them with a career pathway via the Tours operated under the PGA Tour umbrella.

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"I plan to turn professional at my first event on PGA Tour Americas," said Zheng, who is in the field at The Beachlands Victoria Open, which teed off at Uplands Golf Club in Victoria in British Columbia, Canada, on Thursday.

The Beachlands Victoria Open is the first tournament of the North America Swing, comprised of nine events in Canada and one in the US, and the seventh event in the inaugural season of PGA Tour Americas.

"When I was 15 years old, I received a questionnaire for junior golfers that included a question about our dream. I filled in: 'Winning the Masters', and since then, it has never changed," said Zheng.

"The PGA Tour has always been my objective and long-term desire. I watch the PGA Tour all the time, and have done so from a young age."

Zheng tried swimming and playing table tennis when he was young, but it was golf that got him hooked.

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"I started playing golf in Japan when I was nine years old. While it's hard, golf is a good choice. It challenges you, for sure.

"I joined a summer camp in the US when I was 10, and I liked it. I then told my mom that I wanted to take up golf as my sport, or even as my future career, and I wanted to go to America. The next year, I came to the US."

He earned a place at UC Berkeley, where he graduated with an economics degree.

Over the past two years, Zheng has emerged as one of the leading players in collegiate golf, winning once and posting 12 other top-10 finishes while representing UC Berkeley in the US.

He also finished runner-up at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Royal Melbourne last October, narrowly denying him the opportunity to qualify for the Masters.

He believes that the formative years he spent sharpening his golf skills and competing alongside the best collegiate golfers have prepared him for the next phase of his career as a professional golfer.

"I'm getting ready to start my career on PGA Tour Americas. I feel ready in some areas, and still need to learn in others.

"Compared with PGA Tour players, my technical and mental capabilities are not at that level yet, but I think I always have a clear goal when it comes to course strategy," said Zheng, who idolizes the likes of Tiger Woods, Max Homa and Collin Morikawa.

Currently, Carl Yuan Yechun is the lone Chinese mainland golfer who holds a PGA Tour card, with Marty Dou Zecheng having limited status.

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"When I played American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) events, I have one lasting memory of an event in Lake Mary, Florida, where I wasn't qualified for that event, but someone withdrew. I got in, and finished third.

"That really propelled my career. In the AJGA, two months later, I played poorly in my practice round and I wasn't very confident, but I shot 65 the first day and ended up winning the event.

"From then on, many doors have opened for me. I think playing AJGA really helped with my mental strength," said Zheng, whose parents hail from Tianjin.

"When I was at UC Berkeley, the golf courses that my college team played on were always challenging. But, it helped me, as those courses are somewhat similar to PGA Tour courses.

"Playing golf in college really helped improve my time management, too. And I always remember my coach saying 'you'll never be good if everything is handed to you.' I think we endure difficulties and challenges to reach a higher level, and to be our better selves."

He hopes that his decision to pursue the game as a profession will help him emulate the likes of Yuan and Dou by qualifying for the PGA Tour, and subsequently become the first Chinese mainland winner on Tour.

Victoria is next step in the race for the Fortinet Cup, the season-ending event on the PGA Tour Americas, which offers the top 10 players a coveted 2025 Korn Ferry Tour membership.