The kids have been getting all the attention recently – and not just the teens, but those in single digits – though it will take a good few years before any of them progress to the pro ranks. But it’s important to have figures for China’s next generation of golfers to look up to, targets whose records they want to beat, and Wu Ashun – at 28, still young in golfing terms – will today become just the second Chinese male ever to play in the Open Championship.
Liang Wenchong, the first Chinese golfer to make the cut at a major when he finished tied for 64th at the 2008 Open, remains China’s top ranked golfer at world no. 168 (though he’s been as low as 57). Wu Ashun is China’s no. 2 and is currently ranked no. 211 worldwide, though he was in the 700’s shortly before becoming the first Chinese golfer to win on the Japan Tour last September, and then helped the Asian team defeat a strong European side in December’s Royal Trophy in Brunei.
Wu qualified for the Open by shooting consecutive 68s to earn one of four spots on offer at International Qualifying – Asia, held in Bangkok on Feb 28-Mar 1 this year. What’s interesting is that the rest of the world seems to be really embracing the growth of Chinese golf.
Wu Ashun had a practice round with eight-time major winner Tom Watson, and Guan Tianlang got tips from a whole range of professionals at the Masters, before being invited to play in Jack Nicklaus’ tournament by the great man himself. Whether the love is still there once Chinese men start dominating golf the way Korean women are (36 in the world’s top 100) is another question…
With Chinese golf still very much in its infancy, expect to read a lot of “the first Chinese golfer to…” statements for several years to come. But China needs its Liang Wenchongs and Wu Ashuns to break down a few doors, before the next generation can come through to push the boundaries once more. We’re still likely ten years or more away from a Chinese man winning a major, but when it does finally happen, the victor would do well to remember those who have flown the flag before him.
Wu may be the only Chinese but is one of a record 15-strong Asian contingent. He tees off in the fourth group of the day alongside Finn Mikko Ilonen and American Brooks Koepka at 7:05 am local time (2:05 pm China time). [UPDATE: Wu missed the cut by a handful of shots after rounds of 76 and 77 put him at 11-over-par at a treacherously difficult Muirfield course. To put his performance in context, it was good enough to beat the likes of Vijay Singh, Matteo Manassero, Rickie Fowler and Rory McIlroy. Guan Tianlang’s performance at the Masters, where he famously made the cut, has perhaps raised expectations for Chinese golf a little too high, but this was a gutsy performance by Wu in his first ever major. The challenge now is to build on the success he’s had over the past 9 months and continue that climb up the rankings.]