Branden Grace eyes record second Volvo China Open golf title
South African Branden Grace seeks to become the first player to win the Volvo China Open for a second time when he defends his title in the 20 million yuan (HK$25 million) event at Tianjin Binhai Lake Golf Club starting today.
At just 24 he has the golf world at his feet but, remarkably, even more attention this week will be focused on someone half his age - Chinese amateur Ye Wocheng, who will become the youngest player yet to take part in a European Tour or OneAsia event when he tees off aged 12 years and 242 days.
Ye will break the record set by countryman Guan Tianlang, who famously became the youngest to start the US Masters only last month by virtue of winning the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship - and then stunned the field by making the cut at Augusta.
"It's amazing! I only started playing the game at 11, so I wouldn't like to think what handicap I was playing off when I was 12," Grace said. "I spoke to his coach yesterday, and he told me he's been winning almost every amateur tournament he's played in this year. I'll be looking out for his results this week, as I'm sure will most other people. It's a great story, great for him and for the game of golf in general."
Guan misses his home event after a third US PGA Tour event invite, the Byron Nelson Classic. Andy Zhang, the youngest to start the US Open last year at 14, is a late withdrawal due to injury. But in the field are Jim Liu (17), who displaced Tiger Woods in 2010 as the youngest winner of the US junior amateur championship, and Bai Zhengkai, 16, this year's China Junior Match Play Championship winner.
"My main aim this week is just to go out there and enjoy it, I don't really want to think too much about the result," said Ye.
"It's very helpful that I have my coach here this week; he's taught me a lot about how to play in the wind. This course is very long, and it will play even longer in the wind, but it gives me confidence to know that he is here to give me tips and advice on how to cope in the conditions. I'm excited about getting started."
Bai said: "Hopefully I can make the cut this week - that is my goal. I've played many practice rounds on the course, and it's very difficult."