Young pro chips away at record book
The future of Chinese golf can be found most readily on the courses of southern China. One of the brightest stars to come out of the region is Liang Wen- chong - the name most will mention when speaking of China's brightest golfing stars.
He was the 1999 China PGA Tour Order of Merit winner and won events in the Shenzhen, Beijing, Dalian and Kunming Classics in 1999. One of China's representatives in the Alfred Dunhill Cup last year, he seems assured of a promising future.
Your first major win was in the 1995 national youth golf championship, followed by the national men's amateur open title for three consecutive years (1996-98) - an amazing achievement. What was the general standard of golfers at these tournaments?
Actually, I played against a lot of different golfers at a number of tournaments and I was often the youngest player in the game. The overall standard of the golfers at that time left much to be desired, not least because the history of the game was relatively short in the mainland.
I was 18 when I won my first championship. Since many of us started playing golf no more than a few years before, our standard was pretty close among one another. I never thought of taking the titles before that; all I intended to do was to gain more experience. Winning was a big surprise for me.
How did you begin taking part in professional tournaments?
In 1998, I was allowed to take part in the professional Volvo China Golf Tour as an amateur because they thought I played pretty well in amateur competitions over the past few years before that. That was the first time I ever played in a professional tournament. I was both grateful and excited because that was actually a very rare opportunity for an amateur golfer. It gave me the opportunity to gain experience and have a glimpse of what it was like playing in a professional golf tournament. It was a totally different experience.
Under what circumstances did you join the ranks of professional golfers?
In April 1999, I played in a professional golf open in Shanghai and I finished fourth; that was the watershed because from then on I knew I had the capacity to play against professional golfers and actually beat them. I made my decision in July the same year to turn pro.
I did consider the question of income at that time because a pro golfer mainly lives off the prize money, but luckily I had support from my golf club.
Was it a difficult decision to choose between studying and playing golf?
Not really, because I'd already made the decision to play golf and play it hard from the very beginning. I remember when I was still in high school I practised every morning before lessons; at noon I took another short training session and afternoons after school I returned to the golf course day after day. I spent a lot of time in practising; and since I graduated from school I have been fully devoted to the game.
How is the current development of golf in the mainland?
Pretty encouraging. Since last year the British American Tobacco Company (BAT) has sponsored a pro league cup, the BAT China National League Tour, which is the first permanent professional league cup in the mainland. I think the establishment of this competition has had a significant and far-reaching effect. Since then golfers in China have begun to take on a professional attitude, and morale is higher than ever. I'm very happy to see the game is beginning to catch on.
This year the BAT tour was hosted in seven different cities and there was also an Ericsson Open in four cities. Since the mid-1980s when the sport was first introduced to China the number of golf clubs around the country has increased by leaps and bounds. Currently, there are more than 100 clubs nationwide. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement in youth training. So far as I know there is only one golf training school in Beijing, and one in Zhongshan.
Which overseas tournaments did you take part in over the past few years?
This year I put most of my energy into the Asia PGA tour, which was hosted by participants such as Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, South Korea, India, the mainland, Taiwan, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Unfortunately, I could take part in only seven of them because I didn't have enough time to get all the visas. In October, I was invited to the professional Dunhill Cup held in St Andrews, Scotland, and in December I played in the Strait Cup in Taiwan.
Next year I'm going to put more effort into the Asian PGA tour in order to raise my Asian ranking. I wasn't doing enough this year.
Could you name some of your most admired golfers?
I would say Zhang Lianwei and Tiger Woods are the golfers I admire most. Zhang is among the most experienced golfers in China, and is certainly one of the best. He can always keep a cool head in close games.
Woods is young, charming, and absolutely tough. He plays hard and respects the game. He's an inspiration to many young golfers.
Is there anything about yourself that you can improve?
I think there is still a lot of room for improvement in my skill. I'm going to keep on playing this year and at the same time I'm going to get some good coaching to improve my skill. From time to time I didn't perform as I expected, partly because I still lack experience as compared with other players. This year I will strive for greater improvement in my skill, my strength and my attitude.
I believe there is no limit to what you can do if you try.
Is this your first visit to Hong Kong? What is your impression of the city?
Actually, I've been here several times before. This is a very prosperous and vibrant city. Basically you can always find something interesting about this city, and everything here is going on really fast. It's so crowded everywhere. You could easily get swamped by pedestrians on the street. I wish I could spend more time looking around, but every time I was here I had to practise and prepare for competitions and rarely had time to find out more about the place. That's a pity.
What is your advice for young golfers in Hong Kong?
I guess if you are really interested in the game then go ahead with it and give it your best shot. Don't be frustrated if you don't play well at the beginning, because no one is born a pro. Get some good coaching, practise hard and persevere with it. The key thing is perseverance.
Name: Liang Wen-chong
Birthday: August 2, 1978
Birthplace: Zhongshan, China
Occupation: Professional Golfer