China Increases International Sports Scene
Sponsors such as Volvo and Johnnie Walker are pouring millions of dollars into the Chinese tournaments and top players are putting the events on their schedules.
Add a Formula One auto race, the 16-nation Asian Cup soccer tournament and professional tennis and figure skating events, and it would seem that sports is thriving in the country that will host the 2008 Olympics.
But some sports officials and athletes wonder if these major international events are actually harming the development of pro sports in China by siphoning off sponsors, viewers and government money.
Zhang Lin, a professor of sports management at Shanghai's Institute of Physical Education, said frequent broadcasts of European soccer, NBA and other prestigious foreign sports cut into viewership of domestic events.
'People only have a certain amount of time and money to spend and they want to spend it on the best,' Zhang said. 'It has thrown pro sports here into crisis.'
China's top golf pro, Zhang Lianwei, complained recently that Chinese players aren't sharing the wealth brought by international events.
'With no money, you see the other players having steak while you are having bread and spaghetti,' Zhang at last month's China Open in Shanghai. 'You don't have enough power to compete.'
Soccer, by far China's most popular sport, made the country's first push into professional sports with a pro league in 1994.
Today, it's teetering on the brink of collapse.
Attempts by the government-backed Chinese Football Association to revive the sport with a new Super League have been disastrous. After one season, owners are dumping teams, chronic gambling and game-fixing rumors persist and ticket sales are so bad teams can't afford to pay their players.
'These are leagues and teams that are run by rank amateurs and they're now competing for money with international professionals,' said Mark Thomas, managing director of Shanghai-based Vroom Motor Sports Marketing.
In September, Shanghai hosted China's first Formula One Grand Prix at a new $320 million circuit. The track was widely praised while sponsors shoveled in money in hopes of boosting their brands in China's vast and fast-growing market. That no Chinese drivers were on the grid hardly figured into the equation.
Beijing drew top tennis players, including Serena Williams and Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova, for WTA Tour events in September and is hosting this month's figure skating Grand Prix Finals.
Vroom's Thomas says the neglect is an outgrowth of the government's obsession with elite sports and the gold medals and prestige they bring. He says that because little money goes into encouraging broad participation at the grass roots, fans 'aren't coming through the turnstiles at professional games.'
The lack of interest is also partly economic -- most Chinese make about $1,000 a year and have little free time, Zhang says. Cultural factors also come into play, he adds, an outgrowth of the age-old preference for intellectual over physical pastimes.
Further complicating matters, China's government still takes the lead on major sports management decisions, appointing heads of athletic associations and deciding what sponsors athletes can choose.
In one questionable decision, Liu Xiang, the gold medalist in the men's 110-meter hurdles at the Athens Olympics, was signed as an ambassador for China's biggest cigarette manufacturer.
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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.
Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.
Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.
“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”
No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.
On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.
“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.
“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”
A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.
“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”
Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship
It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)
How to watch:
Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream
Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.
Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.
Purse: $6 million
Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)
Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.
Notables in the field
• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship
• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open
• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts
• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)
• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)
• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)
Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17
Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.
Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.
Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.
"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."
But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.
After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.
"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."
McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status
For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.
The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.
McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.
"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."
By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.
But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.
Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.