Chinese golfer Ye Wocheng, 12, is youngest European Tour qualifier
Chinese teenager, 12, takes his place in history by qualifying for Volvo China Open
Richard Castka in Chengdu
Twelve-year-old Ye Wocheng will etch his name into European Tour history when he competes in the Volvo China Open in six weeks, having secured one of the three spots at the western qualifier in Chengdu yesterday.
Ye confessed to being nervous when standing on the first tee at the Wolong Valley Country Club, but this did not show as he ripped a drive down the centre of the fairway and then birdied the hole to set the wheels in motion.
"Playing in a European Tour event will be a whole new experience for me, so I'll be practising very hard for Tianjin," said Ye. "I will also be doing some gym work to get stronger, as I've heard that Binhai Lake is a long golf course."
"Right now I need to think about tomorrow, as I have a 9pm flight to Shenzhen tonight and I need to be in school at 7am in the morning."
Ye will eclipse fellow China prodigy Guan Tianlang's record as the youngest player to qualify for a European Tour event. The Masters-bound Guan also achieved the feat at last year's China Open at the age of 13.
"I couldn't have got off to a much better start," said an emotionally drained Ye. "I actually slept very well last night, so I was really looking forward to the round. My dad told me to just relax and enjoy it, but it was actually quite a nerve-wracking day."
Things started to go wrong for Ye on the back nine, however, when he dropped shots at the 11th and 14th holes, but then steadied things with a birdie two on 15. A sliced drive on the 16th resulted in a recovery shot from the trees, but the youngster was penalised two shots and ended up with a triple bogey eight instead of the bogey six he marked on his scorecard.
"A spectator saw a leaf fall off a tree when Ye made his back swing, so he was penalised two shots," said a rules official. "We informed Ye of this before he signed his card, so he returned a 74 instead of a level par 72."
Ye still had the comfort of taking the penalty and winning one of the three spots for the 20 million yuan (HK$24.6 million) national open.
"I didn't realise I'd broken the rules," said Ye, who started playing at five and shot level par when he was just eight. "Fortunately I had enough strokes in hand to qualify in spite of that problem."