Why the world's top golfers agree - China is set to dominate

Ian Poulter is among many convinced by what they have seen that the mainland is on cusp of conquering - it's all just a matter of time

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2014, 10:35pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 10:41am

"They're that good - and they're coming."

And with that Ian Poulter reinforced what everyone from Augusta to Australia suspects: the Chinese will one day dominate the golfing landscape.

It may be five years or 10 years but it is inevitable, says Poulter, who was given another reminder recently about the talents being honed at home and abroad.

It won't be long before we see a Chinese major champion. I am not saying that will be in two years or five years or 10 years, but it is happening
Ian Poulter 

Playing a hole with an 11-year-old girl, Poulter advised her to play a 5-iron rather than her chosen 6-iron.

"She had 160 yards into a very strong wind and it was playing 180. So she hit the 5-iron 20 paces past the pin and I was rather embarrassed. She knew what she was doing and I didn't.

"They are that good - and they're coming," he warned.

Zhang Lianwei started it more than 20 years ago, Liang Wenchong became his protégé, Wu Ashun has followed, and now a bunch of teenagers led by Guan Tianlang are preparing to take the world by storm.

Add in four Chinese-Americans, aged seven to 11 and two with Hong Kong roots, who won titles at the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championship at Augusta National and the new generations are mobilising.

Many have privileged backgrounds and can do their own thing - in China or abroad - with swing and conditioning coaches, while others rely on the China Golf Association and clubs.

"Their presence and emergence is very real," says Poulter.

"China take their sport very seriously and the addition of golf into the Olympics has helped China fast forward their golf programmes.

"They want their players to compete and obviously they want them to win gold.

"As a player who has played in China for many years, I have seen a big difference and a big change.

"I get to see it not only this week but at the HSBC [Champions] event where ... we play a hole with eight-year-olds and upwards.

"Their swings are very good, they are taught by some of the best in the world and they understand the game exceptionally well.

"It won't be long before we see a Chinese major champion. I am not saying that will be in two years or five years or 10 years, but it is happening.

"If you think of where the game of golf was 10 years ago and you see it today, it has grown exponentially and I see it growing again in the same way in the next 10 years. They will be a big factor."

Guangzhou-born-and-bred Guan announced himself on the world stage last year by making the cut at the Masters.

The 15-year-old is privileged to be able to do his own thing and his parents are keeping him grounded with his education a priority. He will play only a limited number of tournaments this year.

He looked the part again in the first round of the Volvo China Open, but his lack of tournament competition showed as he let it slip on Friday and missed the cut.

"I'm on the right track," he said. "I made a lot of progress last year, played great tournaments and had great experiences."

Representing China at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, in September is his focus: "I hope I will be selected."

World number three Henrik Stenson has also witnessed the emergence of the Chinese players. "If you had put me out at Augusta at the age of 14 I think 90 would have been a good score for me. It is very impressive in a short period of time."

Jason Dufner said he was impressed watching the Chinese amateurs at the Genzon Golf Club last week, confirming what he had heard "from word of mouth".

"Seeing what these kids shoot, it's pretty impressive," said the 2013 US PGA champion, predicting they would become highly coveted recruits for college golf programmes in the US.

"With golf now in the Olympics, a lot of young players are starting to make a name for themselves," Dufner said.

Dou Zechong did exactly that at the Volvo China Open last year, making the cut as a 16-year-old and going on to finish 33rd.

Despite missing the cut on Friday, the Beijing teen dreams of representing China at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.

Like Guan, Dou is a member of the national team but doesn't train with them because he also goes to school.

"The China Golf Association gives me lots of exemptions to play in tournaments and supports us," said Dou, who has his own swing and fitness coaches.

Olympic selection will depend on world ranking points and Dou's cause has been helped by the US PGA launching a 10-leg China tour, with the top five qualifying for the Tour in the US.

Dou didn't play well in the first leg in Hainan this month, but said qualifying for Rio "would really be a rush".

China Golf Association vice-president Wang Liwei says they have introduced the game to more than 20,000 youngsters over the past seven years, thanks to development programmes run with sponsors, and more recently Zhang Lianwei and his foundation to identify talent.

Wang said they now had 300 to 500 promising juniors playing regularly at national events.

"Some of these players will become good enough to play at the Olympics," Wang predicted.

He said the CGA provided a lot of support to the players, but "most of the time the parents are in control of the children".

Wang would not be drawn on the biggest question of all - when would China have a major champion? - saying they were focused on popularisation of the game.

Zhang, the first Chinese player to win on the European Tour, is in the twilight of his career, but his most important years may come through his foundation. He is giving 100,000 yuan (HK$125,500) via his foundation to the best Chinese player this weekend to help him gain more experience abroad.