Humble Li heads to US

By Lu Wenao Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-5 5:03:08

19-year-old golfer makes the grade

Li Haotong plays a shot during the final round of the season finale CTS Tycoon Championship on November 30 in Shenzhen of South China's Guangdong Province. Photo: CFP

 Few had expected a 19-year-old to win the Order of Merit when the ­inaugural PGA Tour China season started, but Li Haotong proved it was possible.

Winning three of the last four events this season, Li made a great leap forward from world No.730 at the end of 2013 to world No.190 this week, chasing compatriots ­Liang Wenchong and Wu Ashun, the leading names of Chinese golf.

Having qualified for next year's Tour full season as the winner of the China Tour money list, Li's trip to the US will be a tough one.

"I have never lived in the US, so next year will not be easy for me," Li said after moving into the world top 200.

Liang and Wu didn't see the third-tier development tour to the US PGA Tour as their main battlefield.

Li, whose earnings totaled 967, 788 yuan ($156,781), thinks he is technically able to compete but also admitted he is lacking in experience. But looking back over the year, he believes he has really learned something.

Li, who took part in all 12 events in the China Tour, has had ups and downs in the two halves of the season.

Stuttering start

Even Li had ruled himself out as a title contender at the start of the season.

"I didn't think too much at the start of the season, I just wanted to be myself," Li revealed after winning the year-end CTS Tycoon Championship in Shenzhen of South China's Guangdong Province.

Li, who turned pro in 2011, finished his first China Tour event, the Mission Hills Haikou Open, tied in 55th place.

He then joined the European Tour's Volvo China Open, where he tied for 7th place after three rounds of play. But a misfiring Li shot a six over par in the last round to end the Open tied in 50th.

Every event he played could bring him progress, Li believed.

He had reason to believe this. The young man then stepped forward to tie for fifth at the Buick Open in Guangzhou before joining a second playoff for the winning spot at the Wuhan Open.

However, he was outshone by Brett Drewitt of Australia, whose birdie putt in the second playoff left two Chinese golfers as runners-up.

"It was a pity, that was the most disappointing thing in the first half of the year," Li said of his first playoff experience since turning pro.

It was Zhang Xinjun who tied with Li in Wuhan, who later won the Earls Beijing Open in June but also became involved in controversy for signing the wrong scorecard twice.

Temper control

Last year, when Li was playing the HSBC Champions as a wild card, he was caught shouting at a photographer, complaining that the shutter was distracting him.

A similar thing happened this year.

When the young man walked away from the 18th green of the Lanhai Golf Club in Shanghai, he was seen angrily looking at a fan who had "congratulated" him for his tied fifth-place finish. He would have earned about 10,000 yuan more if he had made par on the final hole.

Back to the China Tour's Yulongwan Yunnan Open after the journey to the Irish Open, Li underwent a change.

"When I saw someone losing his temper on the course, I felt terrible, and it reminded me of what I'd done before," Li said during the Yunnan Open.

Last week during the third round of the season finale, Li finished the 64th hole at one over par, ­reducing his five-shot lead to only one stroke.

But this time, he reacted totally differently. With calmness, he acknowledged it was time to call it a day with one over par and recalled his mistakes one by one.

His mental strength may have been built on his solid performance in the last stages of the China Tour, during which he secured the precious opportunity of being a Tourist next year before the year-end Championship.

In September, Li bagged his first win as a pro at the Jianye Tianzhu Henan Open in Zhengzhou, which he considered a "breakthrough" in his life.

"I wasn't consistent when playing with stroke advantages, and that's the reason I always fell behind later," Li said. "But this changed after the Henan win. It's always the hardest to come up from nothing."

The win taught him how to maintain his advantage, Li said.

Outside his maiden win in the China Tour, Li then bagged the trophy at the Nanshan Masters in October, becoming the youngest winner at a OneAsia Tour event.

Later that month he tied for 43rd at the European Tour's BMW Masters on his home course at Lake Malaren Golf Club in Shanghai before ending the World Golf Championship - HSBC Champions, which saw 40 of the world's top 50 golfers competing, in tied 35th place with Jordan Spieth of the US, who won the Emirates Australian Open last week.

Love for gesture

Li then continued to focus on the China Tour, claiming the Hainan Open title after a fifth place finish at the Nine Dragons Open.

The Sanya win, which put Li at the top of the money list, saw him miming sheathing a sword with his putter after making the last putt.

With a big lead in hand at the year-end event, Li said he had started to think about his celebratory gesture since the ninth hole.

But he didn't make any special gestures after playing the rounds as he could not figure out the best way to express his ideas without "being embarrassed."

The three-time China Tour winner, who is set to play the full season of the PGA Tour's development tour next season, said he needs to "be prepared."

"Opportunities always favor those who are prepared," he said.

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