Chasing a China triple
Zhang Lianwei is coming to the Omega Hong Kong Open on a mission.
Three weeks after winning the title he most coveted, the Volvo China Open, the Zhuhai native will come to Fanling looking to complete his China triumvirate. With back-to-back wins at the Macau Open in 2001 and 2002 and his recent success in Shanghai, the Chinese No1 is now focused on Hong Kong's top golfing title.
'I love coming to Hong Kong. I have a lot of friends there, so a lot of people come to the tournaments and there is a lot of support. I always feel good there,' says Zhang, ranked 150th in the world.
'Fanling is an old golf course; it's quite natural with many trees. If the weather is not good, or if there is a wind, it can be quite difficult.
'The greens are also small and not as big as other courses we play, so that adds to the challenge.'
Starting out as a caddie at Zhongshan Hot Spring Golf Club in southern Guangdong as a teenager, Zhang has risen to new heights with each passing year.
After winning the China Amateur Open titles in 1989, 1991 and 1994, he turned pro following his last win.
Although Zhang had some success in winning matchplay events early in his pro career, he really started to roll in 2000 when he took his first strokeplay event on the Canadian Tour, the Ontario Open Heritage Classic.
He has not looked back since then, winning increasingly bigger events in each of the past four years.
Last year, he successfully defended his Macau Open title in outlasting two-time Major winner Nick Price in a memorable five-hole playoff.
This year, Zhang grabbed a bigger scalp when he took advantage of a faltering Ernie Els at the Singapore Masters with clutch shots over the last two holes for a one-stroke win over the then world No2.
He has since had a solid year on the Japan Tour, finishing 28th on the money list with 30.4 million yen (HK$2.16 million) in earnings.
'In Singapore, I was a bit lucky beating Ernie Els. I was one stroke behind him on the 17th hole but I played the 18th so well I was able to overtake him,' Zhang says.
'My ranking in the world is currently about 150. Even though I have played a lot of top-10 players, there is still 100 or so players in front of me. So there must be a difference in terms of the quality of my skill. My skills in Japan are only so-so.'
As China's top player, Zhang says many people expect him to compete at the highest reaches of professional golf, but he is determined to compete according to his own schedule. This includes making time for his wife and young daughter at their Shenzhen base.
He says his schedule for next year will include more events in Europe to allow him to keep his Tour card, the Japan Tour and a few special events around Asia, such as in Hong Kong and the Volvo China Open.
'I am doing a lot of things, so I can't really focus on one thing. There are many demands on my time. For me, it would be best to get into the US PGA Tour by winning European Tour events.
'Another way is by the qualifying school, but that takes about five weeks if you are successful. I really want to join [the PGA Tour] as soon as possible. But the point is that it has to be step by step. First is Asia, then Europe and Japan. I can't really tell when I will be playing in the United States.
'If the chance comes then it comes. It would be good to see how good my game can be against the world's top players.'