With all the attention at this week’s Volvo China Open on 12-year-old Chinese qualifier Ye Wocheng, it was perhaps no surprise that he shot a 7-over-par 79 in Thursday’s first round. But these Chinese youngsters just keep coming… 16-year-old amateur, Dou Zecheng, shot a 2-under-par 70, and sits tied for 11th, four strokes off the lead.
Dou may not be as famous as fellow Chinese teens Guan Tianlang, who made the cut in this year’s Masters, or Andy Zhang, who qualified for last year’s US Open, but he’s been on the radar for a while. His best achievement to date was a fourth place finish in the stroke play section of last year’s US Junior Amateur Championship, though he lost in the Round of the 16 in the subsequent match play competition. He is currently the top ranked junior golfer of those set to graduate in 2015, and number 8 overall.
16-year-old Jim Liu, number 2 overall in the junior ranks, is also playing in Tianjin. He’s an American, born to Chinese parents, and became the youngest U.S. Junior Amateur champion in history in 2010 (beating Tiger Woods’ record), but struggled on the front nine on Thursday, hitting the turn in +6, and finished with a 5-over-par 77, and 15-year-old Bai Zhengkai posted an 11-over-par 83. Meanwhile, Andy Zhang is NOT playing: he pulled out this week through injury. Continue reading 12-year-old golfer upstaged by 16-year-old veteran→
Golf is on the up in China: 14-year-old Guan Tianlang made global headlines when he made the cut at the Masters last month; now it’s the turn of 12-year-old Ye Wocheng, who tees off in the European Tour’s China Open on Thursday in Tianjin. And Nike is due to announce the signing of two Chinese golfers in the coming days, just one more sign that the sport stands on the verge of a breakthrough in China…perhaps. Here’s my Sports Talk column on the perils of overhyping teen (and pre-teen) phenoms:
Potential, promise, upside… These are just some of the buzzwords used to describe how good something or someone could become. Whether the terms are applied to a financial investment or a budding sports star, it’s a large part of creating excitement about the future.
Even Homer Simpson knows statistics can be used to prove anything. That’s particularly true in China, where data is not known for being the most reliable. Whether it’s GDP figures, box office numbers or internal accounting, numbers in China are best taken with a sack or two of salt.
For all the attention lavished on Guan Tianlang last week, here’s a bit of context: his Weibo followers have swelled from about 20,000 a week ago to 28,000. Compare that to Chinese tennis star Li Na who has more than 21 million fans.
Numbers in China are notoriously hard to check, especially on a place like Weibo where fake and inactive accounts vastly outnumber real ones, but the point is clear: Guan barely registers on China’s sporting radar despite last week’s heroics. In fact, my guess is that his week at Augusta raised his international profile far more than his Chinese one, and that tells you everything about how far the game of golf still has to go here.
In a word, no – at least not this year – but now that he’s made the cut, how well can he realistically do?
The field of 93 has been pared down to 61, with Guan beginning Round 3 ranked tied for 55th with 6 other players (otherwise known as last equal). Obviously just making the cut is outstanding, but a top 50 finish is now a real possibility.
When Guan Tianlang walked off the 18th green at the end of a 3-over-par second round of 75 – and one hole removed from being controversially given a one-stroke penalty for slow play – he stood at +4 for the tournament, fractionally above the PROJECTED CUT line. But while his score was fixed, that line was not.
His first round of 73 stunned the sporting world, perhaps more so internationally than back home in China, where golf remains a niche sport. But making the cut would emulate Thursday’s achievements, even though it is now in the hands of the gods – and, as he found out to his cost, those of the officials.
As good as Guan Tianlang was on Thursday at the Masters – and he was very good – he’ll have to be every bit as good, perhaps better, on Friday to make the cut. His 1-over-par 73 leaves him tied for 46th place in a field of 94 players, and three shots clear of the next best amateur in the field.
Guan Tianlang tees off at the Masters at 12.24 am early on Friday morning China time, playing alongside Ben Crenshaw (the oldest competitor in the field) and 19-year-old Matteo Manassero, who, as a 16-year-old, previously held (well, technically still holds for another few hours…!) the youngest age record at the Masters.
Good news for Guan in his quest to make the cut: the Masters changed their rules on Wednesday for the first time since 1962 (what is in the water this year??), meaning that more players will now stick around for the weekend’s action. It used to be players standing tied for 44th or better (or within 10 strokes of the lead) would continue to play on Saturday and Sunday, but has been raised to tied for 50th or better (plus those with 10 shots of the lead).
And good news for Guan in his quest to win the whole thing: given that no player has ever won Wednesday’s Par-3 competition AND the Masters proper in the same year, Guan will be “pleased” that Ted Potter Jr, another Masters rookie (but 15 years his senior!) took home the Par-3 prize.
Typically adults are better than kids at most sports, but you could argue that’s not the case in diving (smaller bodies = less splash), gymnastics (younger athletes = more flexible) and now you can add golf to the list – or at least golf in China.
First there was 14-year-old Andy Zhang who gained a last-minute entry into the 2012 US Open as second alternate after Brandt Snedeker and Paul Casey both withdrew through injury. Then there was 13-year-old Guan Tianlang who played in last year’s China Open, a European Tour event, and will tee off at the Masters next week at the ripe old age of 14. And now there is Ye Wocheng, a 12-year-old who will next month break Guan’s record as the youngest to play on the European Tour. Continue reading Sports where puberty is a disadvantage→
Sports business news and analysis in China and Asia