Olympian Ambitions for Golf in China
You might think Im talking about the Great Wall of China. Actually, I mean Mission Hills, the megagolf resort an hour into the Republic of China from Hong Kong. Evidently, ten courses werent enough. Echoing the current Chinese economic war cry for robust growth, Mission Hills has made it an even dozen. The resort has also signed a 12-year deal to host the Omega Mission Hills World Cup, the famous international good will competition of two-man teams from countries around the world. This years version starts November 22 on the Jose Maria Olazabal course.
I first visited Mission Hills four years ago, about the time its tenth course came online. I have been to St. Andrews, Bandon Dunes, Pinehurst and all the rest. They are magnificent places. But there is nothing quite like Mission Hills. This place was designed to be the biggest in the world (the two latest courses, opened in 2005, surpassed Pinehursts 180 holes to take the global lead) and to host international tournaments. The Olympics are coming to Beijing, Chinas capital, in 2008, and that creates most of the sports buzz in this massive nation. But in the south of China, an ancient saying goes, Heaven is high, and the Emperor is far away. That has always been the subtext of the more commercially minded southeastern Chinese culture, and it is the spirit in which golf grows there.
Its not that theres golf as far as the eye can see. Well, there almost is. From the enormous Dongguan clubhouse (one of three), you can see construction cranes in the distance, way past the edge of the property, evidence of Chinas relentless economic powerlifting. But there is so much more to look at within the property that you forget the outside world quickly and enter golfs prodigious Middle Kingdom.
What gets you more deeply is the sheer scale of the place. The idea that there could be more than half a dozen courses in any one spot is hard to get the mind around. But an entire dozen? I can choose from twelve courses, each designed by a famous architect or player consultant? Hm. Lets see. Do I feel Olazabal, Ozaki or Sorenstam today? (The other player-designers or design consultants are Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els, David Duval, and David Leadbetter, Zhang Lian Wei and Pete Dye. Also, noted architects Brian Curley and Lee Schmidt of Scottsdale, Ariz. have consulted on nine of the twelve.)
Even before you get to the 216 holes (stop and think about that a moment), there is a lot to take in. I recall vividly entering the Dongguan clubhouse (at 680,000 square feet, the largest) and checking out the golf shop. The three-floor golf shop. Im told its bigger than most Nordstroms. Golf balls to go with that cashmere sweater, sir? Just up the escalator. And for a post-round massage, you may want to visit one of our spasor wait for the fourth one to be built; its coming any day now. A new hotel tower is planned as well, the third building for housing outside guests.
Then its time to hit the ball. One of 3,000 (yes, three thousand) expertly trained women caddies will see to your golf needs for the next four hours or so -- not more than that, because the pace of play, and everything else at the resort, somehow operates like unerring clockwork. That includes bag storage and amenities for 10,000 members, plus resort guests.
The courses themselves are surprisingly varied, with some dramatic elevation changes. Mostly, though, there is a pleasing roll to the property, and a sane amount of trees. In the morning mist, the place can look ethereal. Only then do you lose sight of the fact that the golf estate you are enjoying is larger than five Central Parks. Yes, the huge one in New York City. Times five.
Factors of five, ten, a thousand are the currency of economic life in China these days. The pace of development in what was once one of the worlds primary anti-capitalist bulwarks is sufficiently dizzying to stupefy visiting Wall Street veterans. And that sometimes gives rise to criticism of golf in China as a sport for the rich-man minority ' although the ranks of those elite are growing rapidly. Mission Hills is undeterred, though, especially in light of the history of golf in the United States, where the sport took hold in the late 19th century among the economic upper crust, becoming more populist over the last 60 years. By bringing the Omega World Cup to China, Dr. David Chu, founder and chairman of the resort, figures he is broadening the foothold of golf in the worlds most populous country.
We are making history in the fine chronicle of golf, Chu said recently. China has a population of 1.4 billion with 400 million youths. The country is having not only the fastest growth in global golf development, but also the largest consumer market in the world. I believe hosting the World Cup of golf in China together with partners like OMEGA, the International Golf Association, the International Federation of PGA Tours under The European Tour's guidance and the China Golf Association, will go beyond just influencing sports and commercial development, it will create an impact so big it will truly turn golf into a global sport!'
The punctuation is Chus, and his enthusiasm is as clear as his talent for consensus-building. Whether golf trickles down in China in this generation remains to be seen. But if the energy that could accomplish something on the scale of Mission Hills can be applied to plebeian participation ' well, lets just say markets could open by the dozens.
Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call
PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.
At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.
“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”
Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.
Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.
Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.
“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.
Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill
ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.
The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?
“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”
And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.
After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.
“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”
Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration
ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.
He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.
Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.
McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.
“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”
A performance fit for a King
ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.
So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.
“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”
But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.
“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.
But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.
Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.
Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.
Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”
McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.
“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.
And entertained, of course.
Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.
“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"
McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”
McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.
During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.
But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.
“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.
McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.
“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.
Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.
And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.
“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”
All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.
Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.
Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.
Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.
“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”
Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.
“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”
It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.
“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.
Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.
But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.
There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.
A kiss for his wife, Erica.
A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.
The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.
“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”