Chinese players should be part of the Presidents Cup
Nowhere is golf booming like on the mainland, so an 'international' team without anyone from China makes no sense
Time is our most precious resource. You give your time to someone, you give your respect. The Presidents Cup needs time. It needs respect, too, and hopefully one begets the other. The matchplay tournament between the best US golfers and the best from the rest of the world, save Europe, teed off this week at Jack Nicklaus' Muirfield Village Golf Club in central Ohio with the Americans prohibitive favourites. And why not? Since the tournament started in 1994, the US have won seven, tied one and lost one.
This year's American team features seven of the top 11 players in the world. As a matchplay event held every two years, the Presidents Cup has long lacked sizzle, particularly in comparison to the heated and often acrimonious rivalry of the Ryder Cup, featuring Europe's best against the US. It's pretty simple: the Ryder Cup is important because the Americans lose it all the time and the Presidents Cup is not important because the Americans win it all the time. What the Presidents Cup desperately needs, in fact what golf desperately needs, is China.
This year's International team features five South Africans, three Australians and one each from Zimbabwe, Argentina, Canada and Japan. As a team they have but one thing in common: they are not Americans. And while the competition will supposedly forge a bond that geography cannot, part of the Ryder Cup folklore was rooted in the Europeans sharing not only a continent but an inferiority complex over the way their tour was looked at as second rate compared to the lucrative PGA Tour. Ironically, nine of the 12 members from the winning European team in 2012 not only play in the US now, they live there as well.
But almost the entire growth of the game is right here under your nose. China is the only place in the world that is still building courses in bulk. Nine years ago there were officially 200 when the central government officially declared a moratorium on building new courses because of environmental concerns and a spate of corruption cases over land grabs. But since when has environmental concerns or corruption derailed anything in China?
State officials get to pick and choose which laws they enforce and now there are reported to be over 600 courses with many more on the way. So officially or not, the hardware is in place for golf. Now they need the software and with golf coming aboard as an Olympic sport in 2016, that should not be a problem.
Despite long being demonised on the mainland as a western, elitist sport, golf is a discipline seemingly tailor-made for the cultural make-up of Chinese. There are no quick reactions in golf and no need to improvise on the fly. In sports like soccer and basketball, where split-second decisions and creativity are a must, China continually struggles because it is a nation weaned on rote learning. They are taught to memorise, not improvise. But golf, while largely mental, is also methodical and that's something they can do on the mainland, particularly with an unmatched talent pool. Like the legion of prepubescent female gymnasts and divers who dot their academies, elfin golf prodigies are sprouting up all over the country, led by 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, who will compete in a skills challenge with world number one Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy this month at Mission Hills in Hainan.
Guan this year became the youngest player yet at the Masters where, despite a ridiculous two-stroke penalty for slow play, he still made the cut. He also showed remarkable poise and class in dealing with the situation, which should come as no surprise considering that at 13 he qualified to play in his country's biggest professional tournament, the Volvo China Open.
Guan was upstaged this year by 12-year-old Ye Wocheng, who also qualified for the China Open, a European Tour co-sanctioned event, where he missed the cut in May. In 10 or 15 years, the likes of Guan, Ye and a slew of other Chinese golfers could well form the core of the Presidents Cup team, most likely being contested on a mainland course.
It's certainly an intoxicating thought: China versus the US in a battle on the pristine fairways between the world's only superpowers. It could well be the jump-start that the Presidents Cup needs. Only time will tell. But time is indeed our greatest resource and nobody has more of that resource right now than China golf.