Chinese Players Chase Dreams on Futures Tour

By Lisa D. MickeyMay 3, 2004, 4:00 pm
Futures TourWhen three Chinese women were handpicked two years ago to come to America to train as professional golfers, they never dreamed their personal goals would matter to anyone else or would bring such early success. But when Hong Mei Yang, one of the three selected to represent a population of more than 1.2 billion, won last week on the Futures Golf Tour, you could nearly hear the fireworks erupting an ocean away.
 
They will become like the Houston Rockets Yao Ming in basketball and they will have a very big impact in China for womens golf, predicted James Chen, who coaches the trio at Oak Valley Golf Academy in Beaumont, Calif. These three are the first, the pioneers.
 
The three players -- all from the Peoples Republic of China -- truly are the first to play professional golf in the United States, where all three qualified for the Futures Golf Tour last fall. Their supersize homeland has less than 40 women who are golf professionals and only three -- Yang of Si Chuan, Chun Wang of Beijing, and Li Chun Zhang of Ji Lin, China, earned the privilege to leave their country to pursue careers as touring professionals. That concept is difficult for most of their compatriots to grasp.
 
We are lucky, said Chun, 26, who studied foreign trade economics at Beijing University and speaks the best English of the three. We started to play golf at age 20. When we are in China, if we say we are pros, people say, Oh really? They are surprised.
 
Perhaps their countrymen will be more surprised at the result of their labor. Yang, 28 and Zhang, 29, are older than the average Futures Tour player, but their careers have just begun and their respective work ethic points to future successes that are guaranteed to kick down barriers and open doors for women throughout China. The trio could have the same impact on their nation as Korean LPGA pro Se Ri Pak had on her homeland back in 1998, bringing others to the game and to America to compete on the worlds largest professional womens tour.
 
Natalie Wong of Montebello, Calif., a first-generation Chinese-American who plays on the Futures Tour, traveled to China in February to play in that nations first professional womens tournament. The event, co-sponsored by the West Coast Ladies Golf Tour and Oak Valley Golf Academy, had 30 U.S. players and 30 from China.
 
Most of the Chinese players were teaching pros because they have no opportunity to play tournaments, said Wong, a fourth-year pro and Yale University graduate. This was the first tournament and the top players at that event earned scholarships to come to the U.S. to train. It was a big deal there and everybody knew who these three players were.
 
Yang won that inaugural event and made an impression on the American pros who traveled to China for the tournament.
 
They havent had much tournament experience, but all three of them are accomplished players, said first-year Futures Tour player Kim Rowton of San Antonio, Texas, who traveled to China for the event. They definitely are paving the way for others.
 
At the Futures Tour Qualifying Tournament last November, Zhang tied for fifth, Yang tied for 24th and Chun finished 81st of 300 players. Yang finished fourth in the LPGAs Sectional Qualifier in Venice, Fla., but missed the 54-hole cut in the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament. When she fired an 11-under-par score of 205 for a personal best to win last weeks IOS Futures Golf Classic in El Paso, Texas, a number of players were knowingly shaking their heads.
 
Im not surprised at all, said Futures Tour player Brenna Cepelak of Albuquerque, N.M., who also made the February trip to China. These players work really hard every day. Its a dream for them and they will make the most of this opportunity.
 
They already have. Chun was a swimmer and played badminton before she took up golf five years ago. Yang was a basketball player and has been playing golf for nine years. And Zhang began playing golf nearly 10 years ago. All three became professionals after working at golf courses as caddies or as attendants at driving ranges. When Yang caddied for the winner of the 1995 Volvo China Open, her supervisor at an electronics factory where she worked granted permission for her to pursue her interest in the game.
 
But it hasnt been easy. Golf is very expensive in China. Many families are poor and live in agricultural areas where golf is not available or they live in large, densely populated cities where space is too limited for proper training facilities. But what many of the nations women players lack in money, technology and opportunity, they make up for in determination.
 
These three players who are here now are very disciplined, hard-working women and their potential is unlimited, said Chen of his students, all of whom averaged scoring in the high-70s and low-80s as recently as two years ago. In Chinese society, women are treated as second-class citizens. This is a way for them to see that they can be more.
 
And when Yang won last week, Chen was particularly pleased. This tells us we are doing the right things to help them progress, he said.
 
Three more Chinese women professionals will arrive in California this week to train with Chen at the academy. Their goal will be to qualify for the Futures Tour or LPGA Tour this fall. The original trio, who plan to play a full schedule on the Futures Tour this year, hope to earn their LPGA Tour cards for 2005. They share an apartment in California and a car when they play tournaments. Chun, who helped Yang deliver her champions speech on the 18th green this past Sunday, says they help each other achieve their goals.
 
We have to go away from home and let others follow, said Chun. Thats our job. We tell our friends to come here and try ' to come here to be a professional.
Getty Images

McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

Getty Images

Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Getty Images

Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

Getty Images

McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.