SHANGHAI – The PGA Tour China Series began in 2014 and by all accounts is ahead of schedule in developing local talent.
Last year, Li Haotong was one shot out of the lead going into the final round of the HSBC Champions and played in the penultimate group with reigning Masters and U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth. After a rough start with a nation watching, he shot 72 and tied for seventh.
This year, the honor went to Zhang Xinjun, who opened with rounds of 68-69. He received a larger gallery than he would have expected because he was in the same group as Rory McIlroy. Zhang matched McIlroy with a 70, and then he faded to a 76 on the final and tied for 21st.
''It's great for the tournament,'' McIlroy said. ''I knew the atmosphere of the day was going to be a bit bigger than it has been, especially playing with Zhang. It's nice they have a local. They came out to watch him and support, and I was along. So it was a bonus that we both played together.
''All the kids watching, it can only inspire them to try to emulate the local hero, as well as guys like us.''
Li won four times in China in the inaugural year to advance to the Web.com Tour, where he was 49th on the money list. He was playing the Web.com Tour again this year until he won the Volvo China Open to secure his European Tour card. He now is at the Turkish Airlines Open this week as part of the Final Series on the Race to Dubai.
Zhang is No. 5 on the China money list, hopeful of staying there for the second half of the season so he can advance to the Web.com Tour.
''This is what we hoped would happen,'' said Paul Johnson, head of international affairs for the PGA Tour. ''It just happened sooner than we thought. When we built the platform, we thought it would take five years. Some of these guys have shot through more quickly.''
Next in line is Zecheng Dou. He already has won four times on the PGA Tour China Series to easily lead the money list. Zecheng is virtually a lock to be on the Web.com Tour next year, and he should have status all year.
For Zecheng, coming to America won't be too great of a shock to the system. He once lived in Canada, and he played several junior events in America growing up. He saw the PGA Tour China Series as his best route to the PGA Tour.
''It's developing fast,'' he said of the 3-year-old circuit. ''It seems like every winning score was 20 under. It's getting harder, and there's more foreign guys coming to play. A lot better players are coming over.''
The second half of the season resumes this week with the Clearwater Bay Open.
WALK-UP MUSIC: Expect the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship to be a little bit louder next January.
At least before the first shot is struck.
Giles Morgan, the global head of sponsorship for HSBC, plans to have music on the practice range at Abu Dhabi. Players would choose the playlist. Music also was blaring on the range at Hazeltine during the Ryder Cup.
Morgan also wants to create a little more atmosphere as players approach the first tee.
''We want to celebrate the moment,'' he said. ''We're looking at them coming from the putting green with the soundtrack they choose, and that sound feeds up from the hill when it's their time to go up. They've chosen their walk-up music. It happens in other sports, and it seems to work. It allows them through their choice of music to connect with the fans, and it humanizes them.''
TRAVEL PROBLEMS: Tyrrell Hatton of England nearly parlayed a pair of strong finishes in the majors to a PGA Tour card.
Some of the blame can be attributed to a bad day of travel.
Hatton tied for fifth in the British Open. He tied for 10th in the PGA Championship, which got him into the Travelers Championship the following week. He closed with a 66 and tied for 17th. All he needed was one good tournament to finish in the equivalent of the top 125 on the money list and earn his PGA Tour card.
The Wyndham Championship helped out by giving him an exemption. It was getting there that proved to be the problem. ''A shocker of a journey,'' Hatton said.
He flew from Hartford, Connecticut, to Greensboro, North Carolina, via Philadelphia. But when he reached Philadelphia, his flight to Greensboro was canceled and he was routed through Washington, where that flight was nearly canceled.
''It should have taken me 14 hours from leaving the hotel, and it took 34,'' Hatton said. ''I managed eight holes of a practice round. I was just a zombie.''
He missed the cut and headed back to England. He's not sure the travel issues cost him a chance in the tournament, though it didn't help.
''Just one of those weeks,'' Hatton said. ''But I'm looking forward to playing more events out there.''
RYO'S BACK: Hideki Matsuyama has been on such a tear that it's easy to overlook the return of longtime friend Ryo Ishikawa.
Ishikawa sat out most of the PGA Tour season with a back injury. He returned to the Japan PGA Championship and missed the cut, took an additional six weeks off and now is starting to roll. Ishikawa has posted five straight top 10s in Asia. The streak began with the 14th victory of his career. He followed with a runner-up finish, third at the ANA Open, a tie for seventh at the Japan Open and a tie for 10th at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia.
Next up for Ishikawa is Las Vegas.
Later this month, he will join Matsuyama in Melbourne to represent Japan in the World Cup at Kingston Heath.
DIVOTS: One of the highlights at the HSBC Champions is a party to celebrate the ''HSBC Caddie of the Year.'' This year's winner? Austin Johnson, the brother of U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson. It was a vote of the other caddies at the HSBC Champions. ... Gary Woodland married Gabby Granado before playing the Asia swing. ... Three left-handers have won on the PGA Tour this year, none of them with the nickname ''Lefty.'' Bubba Watson won at Riviera, Greg Chalmers won in Reno and Cody Gribble won in Mississippi. ... The John Deere Classic raised a record $10.5 million for 491 local and regional Quad Cities charities, ranking it among the top three in charitable giving on the PGA Tour. ... The FedEx Cup playoff event at the TPC Boston will be called Dell Technologies Championship.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Chesson Hadley (No. 92) at the 2014 Puerto Rico Open was the last player in the top 100 to win an opposite-field event on the PGA Tour.
FINAL WORD: ''When I got to six ahead I was thinking, 'If I blow this, it's not going to be good.' I felt a bit of pressure with that thought.'' - Hideki Matsuyama, on his seven-shot victory in the HSBC Champions.