China determined to dig up its own Tiger Woods

(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-09-30 09:59

South Korea has produced PGA Championship winner Yang Yong-eun and Japan boasts rising star Ryo Ishikawa.

Faced with the eye-catching achievements of these neighbors of China, the country's golf chief is determined to develop a local hero in a bid to give the sport a shot in the arm here.

"I call it the 'power of a golf icon'," said Zhang Xiaoning, vice-president of the China Golf Association (CGA), during the launch of China Amateur Golf Futures Tour (GFT) on Monday.

China determined to dig up its own Tiger Woods
Zhang Xiaoning

"When a player achieves glittering results in golf's biggest tournaments, it automatically sparks passion for the sport in his or her home country," Zhang said.

Yang held off Tiger Woods to win the 91st PGA Championship last month while, at about the same time, Ishikawa, 18, became the youngest golfer to reach the top 50 of the world rankings.

"Korea, Japan and even Chinese Taipei have produced a number of the world's top golf players who have inspired a great number of youngsters to follow. It's a good cycle of development for the sport."

Zhang said one of the major reasons behind establishing the GFT tour was to embed it further at the sport's grassroots level and discover a local hero as soon as possible.

"A great player emerges from tournaments for teens and amateurs. Tiger Woods is the best example," he said.

Tiger, the world No 1, had a sterling career as an amateur. He won three US Junior Amateur Championship titles in a row and remains the event's youngest and only multiple winner.

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"The US has well-organized tournaments for various age groups. Every potentially good player has the chance to progress, step by step, before making it to the PGA or LPGA tours.

"That's why we established the GFT. China already has an amateur tour and a pro tour but no real events for juniors or enthusiasts who are not eligible to compete in an amateur or pro event.

"If we want to have a Chinese Tiger Woods we have to do harder work at the grassroots level. The GFT is a very good start."

So far, the best result on the international stage by a Chinese golfer was Liang Wengchong's 2007 Singapore Masters victory. The tournament was co-sanctioned by the Asian and European tours.

Liang was the second golfer from China to win on the European Tour, after veteran Zhang Lianwei.

In 2007, Liang won the Order of Merit on the Asian Tour, becoming the first player from the Chinese mainland to do so.

In July 2008, he also became the first Chinese to make the cut at a major - the British Open at Royal Birkdale in England.

Despite his feats, chief official Zhang is aware that Liang is far from enough to stir up 'golf mania' among the younger generation and states the GFT is just the latest effort by the CGA to unearth future stars.

"Apart from the new GFT, we opened a similar developmental program three years ago, thanks to co-operation with HSBC," Zhang said.

The HSBC China Junior Golf Program was designed to build a sustainable long-term structure and framework for golf in China.

"The program is in more than 200 high schools and about 600 to 700 juniors have benefited from it," Zhang said.

"We are glad to see this generation shows potential we have never seen before. That boosted my confidence to develop the GFT nationwide.