Sports / Golf

Zhang forsakes security to swing for the stars

By China Daily (China Daily) Updated: 2012-05-09 08:02

Zhang forsakes security to swing for the stars

Up-and-coming Chinese golfer Zhang Xinjun said the best he hoped for when first picking up a golf club was to maybe earn a living by teaching the sport. [Provided to China Daily]

Rising Chinese golfer is slowly but surely making his way in the game after a 'guarded' start

The world of professional golf is full of stories of players who have come through the ranks, but few have come as far or as fast as China's Zhang Xinjun, a OneAsia rising star. The 24-year-old will be teeing it up this week in the 31st GS Caltex Maekyung Open Golf Championship at Namseoul Golf and Country Club in Seoul, grateful for the opportunity to play and mindful of his roots.

Zhang, who hails from a village near the old Tang Dynasty capital of Xi'an, left school at 15 and set his sights on becoming a security guard, hopeful the 600 yuan ($95) per month he could earn would help support his farmer parents.

But fate took him by the hand when his first assignment after completing three months of basic training was at a golf course, where the impressionable youngster was immediately struck by the strange, foreign game.

Before long he was spending all his spare time on the driving range, learning everything he could with the hope of one day, perhaps, getting a job in golf.

"I never thought I would become a pro golfer and play full time on a golf tour," Zhang said.

"When I picked up a golf club, the best I could hope for was to maybe become a coach and earn my living by teaching golf."

But Zhang took to the game like a duck to water, and before long he was making a name for himself on China's amateur circuit where he quickly caught the attention of the country's golf authorities.

His breakthrough came in 2007, when as a 20-year-old he was called up to represent Team China.

"It was only when I was called in to prepare for the Asian Games that I even had the idea I could one day move up as a pro," he said.

Zhang only turned professional in January last year and has already made quite an impression.

Topping his two victories on China's small domestic circuit and a joint fifth at last year's Nanshan China Masters on the OneAsia Tour was a tie for 13th spot alongside Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai.

A sparkling 8-under 64 in the third round helped him record the best finish by a Chinese in the history of the World Golf Championship event.

"He played very solid golf," declared tournament winner Martin Kaymer of the former security guard. "He's a long hitter. His putting is brilliant, so I can see him playing well in the future. I had never heard of him before, but you've got to watch out, there are more players coming from Asia and he's probably one of the better ones."

Zhang said he still had to take his game up a notch to compete against some of the world's best players.

"It's much harder than playing as an amateur because I have to take it to a higher level," he said.

He freely admits his game is not where he would like it to be at the moment, and he is working on ball control.

"I'm practicing every day to try to improve," he said. "I am paying particular attention to my back swing. It's a little outside now, so I need to rectify this."

That said, while he recognizes a couple of technical issues, Zhang is hopeful he can fix the problems and get his groove back.

"I am not like I was in the autumn of last year," he said. "I missed the cut at the Volvo China Open by one stroke. But I'm still confident I can win a domestic tournament."

As for goals this year, Zhang is keeping things in perspective.

"I want to play well on the China Championship Tour and Challenge Tour, and hopefully graduate from the Japan Tour qualifying school in the next half year. I hope to get a full card for Japan for 2013."

For now he is taking it one step at a time.

"I like the life very much," he said. "It's very challenging ... every day is different and I have no idea what will come tomorrow. I'm just focusing on my game now and enjoying the ride."

And that ride is already taking him places.

"I like travel," said Zhang, who was in New Zealand earlier this year and was struck by the natural beauty of the country.

"Queenstown was very beautiful ... like an oil painting," he said.

Another place the young professional has fond memories of is TPC Sawgrass in the United States, home of The Players Championship.

"We (Team China) spent 20 days there practicing," he said.

"I had only seen it before on television, but it is amazing. They give all the former champions their own locker with their name and their country's flag".

Perhaps one day he'll have his name on a locker there.

The 31st GS Caltex Maekyung Open is the third stop on OneAsia's 2012 schedule, which boasts 14 events.


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