China still in golf infancy as a country

By Doug FergusonNovember 11, 2014, 10:04 pm

SHANGHAI – The graceful movement was enough to get the full attention of Adam Scott, who knows a good golf swing when he sees one.

Scott only remembers her name as Tina. She was one of several Chinese juniors afforded a chance to play with the pros for one hole on the eve of the HSBC Champions.

And she made quite an impression.

''I played with an 11-year-old girl this week who if she does nothing but continues to play, I'm sure she'll be on the LPGA tour in about five years,'' Scott said. ''She played off my tees on the 17th, 205 yards. Hit a 3-wood to 15 feet and lipped it out. Made an easy 3. Just looked beautiful.''

Four years ago, Tiger Woods was introduced to a 12-year-old on the same hole at Sheshan International. Woods was amazed at the poise the boy showed in hitting over the gorge and onto the green with the largest gallery on the golf course watching.

His name was Guan Tianlang, and two years later he became the youngest player to make the cut in the Masters.

Each year brings more advancement by Chinese golfers, and the inaugural year of PGA Tour China would appear to be accelerating that growth.

With three events remaining on the 12-tournament schedule, one of the top five golfers in position to get his Web.com Tour card is Li Hao-tong, a lanky 19-year-old who has shown signs of competing against stronger, more experienced players.

The China Golf Association gets limited spots for its players when tournaments are held in China, and Li is coming off two solid weeks.

He tied for 43rd in the BMW Masters on the European Tour (on his home course at Lake Malaren). A week later in the HSBC Champions, a World Golf Championship event featuring 40 of the top 50 in the world ranking, he closed with a 67 for the second-best round on Sunday. He tied for 35th with Jimmy Walker and Jordan Spieth.

Baby steps.

''It's a good opportunity,'' Li said of PGA Tour China. ''If not for PGA competition, I would not be able to have a chance to go to the U.S. to play.''

Li believes his game is technically sound enough to compete. What he lacks is experience.

And that was the whole idea of the fledgling tour in China.

''We're seeing some good players, and some wins by Chinese players,'' said Paul Johnson, the PGA Tour's senior vice president of international business affairs. ''That's the start of the process. They have to play a lot and win tournaments. We've been encouraged by the early success. That said, we have a very long-term view. Our hope is to have one or two players come through early. And if it doesn't happen in the short term, we stay with the plan.

''The talent is there,'' Johnson said. ''It's getting the competitive experience.''

The one setback on PGA Tour China was the other Chinese winner - Zhang Xin-Ju, whom the CGA banned for six months after he was disqualified for the second time for turning in an incorrect scorecard. He is leading the money list on the PGA Tour China, though the ban means Zhang cannot play on any tour until the middle of March. The PGA Tour will not comment on whether it plans its own sanction.

PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem described it as an ''individual thing'' and said the topic did not come up in two days of meetings with Chinese golf officials.

Finchem said the goal was to develop elite players, and the first gauge of true progress could come next year if Zhang and Li get to the Web.com Tour.

''Next year will be really good because it will be a combination of seeing how the guys who qualify for the Web.com do, and then we've got some growth going on here,'' said Finchem, who expects an additional three events on the 2015 China schedule. ''We're not looking to change the world overnight. It's a long-term project.''

China is still an infant in golf.

Zhang Lian-Wei was the first Chinese player to win on the European Tour in 2003 when he beat Ernie Els by one shot in the Singapore Masters. He was the inspiration for Liang Wen-chong, who shot 64 in the third round at Whistling Straits and tied for eighth in the 2010 PGA Championship.

Wu Ashun has qualified for the British Open the last two years. Wu wonders how much easier it would have been had the PGA Tour China been around earlier.

''It would help me develop my career better,'' he said. ''It's very lucky for the Chinese players. They will benefit from the tour. They can stay in China to play tournaments, but it's a passage to the PGA Tour.''

Finchem recalls the World Cup going to China in 1995 and a gallery that pressed against the ropes without truly understanding what they were seeing. The fans are more sophisticated each year, and some of the Chinese players had the largest galleries behind only the likes of Scott, Rickie Fowler and HSBC winner Bubba Watson.

''It's early days since the start of the century that we started coming here,'' Scott said. ''Fifteen years isn't that long to build world-class players. Maybe we're five years away from seeing really great players.''

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.