The future for China golf

April 11, 2019

When Zhang Lianwei lifted his first Asian Tour title in 1996 to deliver China’s first significant victory in golf, Li Haotong was one-year-old while Dou Zecheng wasn’t even born.

Zhang Lianwei. Photo credit Getty Images
Zhang Lianwei. Photo credit Getty Images

For almost two decades, Zhang, now 53, single-handedly blazed a trail on the international front for Chinese golf where his accomplishments include becoming the first player from the Middle Kingdom to win a European Tour tournament.

Zhang’s only setback was not getting onto the PGA TOUR, the pinnacle of the professional game but his swashbuckling brand of golf and inspiring backstory certainly paved the way for the generation after him to not only follow in his footsteps but shoot for the stars.

These days, the likes of Li, 23, and Dou, 22, are carrying China’s torch proudly around the world along with several other young guns emerging onto the scene. As products of the PGA TOUR Series-China, the dynamic duo is slowly but surely establishing themselves with eye-catching performances to underscore their prospects that would please Zhang mightily.

Zecheng Dou. Photo credit Getty Images
Zecheng Dou. Photo credit Getty Images

The tenacious Dou, along with Zhang Xinjun, became the first two Chinese golfers to qualify and play on the PGA TOUR in 2018, thanks largely to a pathway created by the PGA TOUR Series-China and Web.com Tour. Li, the inaugural PGA TOUR Series-China Order of Merit winner in 2014, has since won twice on the European Tour and hopes to become the third Chinese to find his way onto the PGA TOUR, albeit via a different route.

There is a Chinese proverb which calls on those in the present to “Consider the past and you shall know the future” which the new generation of golfers like Li and Dou have fully embraced as they seek to drive Chinese golf forward with their tenacity and talent.

Admittedly, Dou, the PGA TOUR Series-China No. 1 in 2016 following four victories, and Zhang Xinjun struggled in their PGA TOUR rookie season in 2017 but both have quickly enhanced their prospects of a quick return with flying starts on the Web.com Tour this season.

At the first event of the year, Dou brilliantly sank three closing birdies, including a clutch 50-foot monster at the last hole at the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, to claim his second career victory on the Web.com Tour and put himself in prime position for another promotion onto the PGA TOUR in 2020. Zhang, meanwhile, finished runner-up at the Panama Championship to signal his intent.

Li, ranked 38th in the world (as at March 11, 2019), is eyeing a PGA TOUR card through the FedExCup Season Points List for Non-Members. He finished T19 at the World Golf Championships – Mexico Championship in February and with a T11 at the WGC-HSBC Champions on home soil counting towards the ranking as well, he is determined to make the most of his opportunities.

His credentials will be further tested when he returns for a second Masters Tournament appearance in April. He finished T32 in his debut a year ago where an opening 69 at Augusta National put him in T4 position and ensured he caught the golfing world’s attention, including Tiger Woods.

Unlike the pioneering Zhang Lianwei, who was a javelin thrower before learning to play golf on his own accord in his early 20s, the likes of Li and Dou now have the necessary support and technology to ensure they succeed on golf’s biggest stage.

With three other Chinese golfers – Carl Yuan, Andy Zhang and Motin Yeung – holding Web.com Tour playing rights, the future for China golf looks bright-red indeed.

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