Sports / Golf

Greenhorns who relish the grassroots

By Chen Xiangfeng (China Daily) Updated: 2012-06-20 08:10

Born in China and based in the United States.

It has become an accepted norm for Chinese golfers to pursue their careers overseas. The latest examples are the newly crowned LPGA tour major champion Feng Shanshan and prodigy Andy Zhang, 14, who made history last week when he became the youngest-ever player to compete in the US Open.

Greenhorns who relish the grassroots

Children practicing at Meishe School in Haikou, Hainan province. It is the province's first golf course on a campus and attracts many students during the summer vacation. Peng Tong for China Daily

Feng was born in Guangzhou and started playing golf at age 10, following the wishes of her father who worked for the local golf association.

Feng traveled to the US at age 17 to attend school and play golf. She currently works with the instructor Gary Gilchrist at his Florida golf academy. "The training facilities and atmosphere in US are much better than in China. The US has top-level professionals and mature systems. There are also so many good coaches in the US and you can gain great experience working with them," she said.

Zhang moved to the US at age 10. Golf was his major objective and he now trains at the David Leadbetter academy in Florida. When he first visited the US to participate in a couple of junior tournaments, Zhang was transfixed by the quality and sheer number of courses. "I liked it a lot," he said. "In China, you don't ever get to hit range balls off real grass. You have to hit them off a mat." he said. "Golf hasn't developed too much in China. It's not really as good as here."

Like Feng, Zhang revealed that one of his goals is to represent his native country at the 2016 Olympics, although so far nothing has been done officially to pursue that aim and the two rising stars are not even members of the national team yet. However, their selection is surely just a matter of time provided they maintain their upward momentum.

The US is also the current location of China's national teams as they train and hone their skills, with eight of the women's team undertaking a two-week training session at the Oak Valley Golf Academy where they were instructed by Dave Stockton Jr, son of the legendary Dave Stockton.

"There are good players everywhere in the US and this is a great experience for us," said Wang Xin. "We are slightly jealous of those who can study, train and play in the US. Hopefully, one day, some of us will also have the opportunity."

Even at the grassroots level, an increasing number of junior players, who study and train in the US, come to play in China during their school vacations. "It's very interesting to see some new faces come up in our tournament," said Wu Wen, secretary-general of the China Amateur Golf Futures Tour. "This tournament is usually their first event in China but some of them are very impressive. Studying and training in the US definitely helps them a lot.

"Our tournament is a significant stage for amateurs before they turn pro or play in higher-level competitions. I'm pleased to see more overseas-based youngsters rise up and make the grassroots events competitive. That will greatly help the sport's future."


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