Chinese golfer Li set to inspire next generation after Open heroics

By Mark Dreyer Source:Global Times Published: 2017/7/25 23:33:39

Regular readers of this column will be far more familiar with Chinese golfer Li Haotong than many others were last weekend, when he stunned the golfing world with a closing round of 63 to shoot up the leader board into third place at The Open Championship at Birkdale in the UK.

So good was his performance that as leader Jordan Spieth faltered over his opening holes, it looked for a moment as though Li's six-under-par total might be good enough for a playoff, or even an outright win.

It should be noted that Spieth, whose final round was praised by some as among the best in history, shot a 69, ­dramatic conclusion notwithstanding.

Li is still only 21, but this performance has been a long time in the making.

After turning professional in 2011, he was signed by Nike while still only 18 and flown to the US to be given custom-made clubs, something the sportswear giant has done for Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and very, very few others.

He won three of the last four tournaments in the inaugural season of the PGA Tour China Series in 2014, winning the overall title by some margin and earning his card to play on the PGA's second-tier Tour in the US.

But it's been on the European Tour where Li has been making some headlines, firstly for winning the Tour-­sanctioned China Open last year and then again last month - for very different reasons - when footage of his ­mother ­retrieving a broken club from a pond at the French Open went viral.

That all changed on Sunday, when Li became just the 11th person in Open Championship history to shoot a 63, and only the fourth in the final round. ­Unsurprisingly, it was the best-ever finish by a Chinese man in a major championship.

Having finished with a 63, Li is now ranked No.63 in the world, his first foray into the top 100, and just six places shy of Liang Wenchong's 57th place, China's highest ranking in men's golf to date.

But this result could have far-­reaching consequences.

More than 30 other Chinese players took part in the 2016 China Open, many with little or no experience of European Tour golf.

But as they mature and play more tournaments, several will undoubtedly break through and - at the very least - join Li in the top 100.

Don't expect China to dominate golf in the way that Chinese players could soon dominate snooker, but the next generation of Chinese golfers has arrived - and is here to stay.

Mark Dreyer is the editor of China Sports Insider. A former reporter at Sky Sports and Fox Sports, he regularly comments on China's sports industry in the global media.


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