Chinese duo relish links challenge
Cheng Jun beat compatriot Zhang Lianwei into the history books by becoming the first Chinese to bid for British Open qualification yesterday.
Cheng, winner of the Volvo China Open on last year's Omega Tour, was due to tee off at Hillside Golf Club five hours before Zhang began his campaign for an Open place at nearby Hesketh Golf Club.
'It's an honour for Zhang and I to be the first Chinese to challenge for a place in the British Open,' said Cheng.
Hong Kong's Dominique Boulet was making his sixth bid for a coveted Open spot at Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club.
A total of 480 players are chasing just 48 qualification places for this week's Open at Royal Birkdale. Cheng, Zhang and Boulet are part of a 41-strong group from the Asian PGA's Omega Tour attempting to qualify.
The 'Asian Invasion' is being sponsored for the second year by Johnnie Walker, with all the players staying in the same hotel near the Open venue.
The camaraderie forged among the golfers in 1997 was credited with helping Singapore's Mardan Mamat, Gaurav Ghei of India and American John Kernohan qualify for the British Open at Royal Troon.
Cheng flew in from the United States where he altered his swing slightly during two weeks at David Leadbetter's Golf Academy in Florida.
'My body was going through in the swing too early so I'm turning it more now and swinging slower,' he said. 'The course I'm playing is not too tight but it will be difficult if the wind blows. I hit the ball low which will help me in the wind.' While Cheng has been out of competitive action since May, Zhang has been playing on the tough Canadian circuit for the past month.
'It's been good for my game playing in Canada and I'm happy with my form,' said Zhang, who came to international attention with his sixth-place finish in last year's European Masters. 'I finished fifth once and made the cut in the other three events.
'I have never played links golf before and will only have the chance for one practice round but I hope to do well.
'There is a big group of players from the Asian PGA playing in the final qualifying and I wanted to be part of this campaign. I've flown a long way for these two rounds and I hope to make it into the Open - it would be great to play in a Major.' Zhang is currently lying eighth in the Omega Tour Order of Merit and his ability to adapt to different conditions and his experience playing in Europe and North America will stand him in good stead during the two qualifying rounds.
While Zhang is enjoying a good season, Boulet is suffering a slump in form.
'There is not much wrong with my game, it's just a mental thing,' said Boulet.
'I have no great expectations [for the qualifying] but I still have the desire.'