Sports / Golf

Fans thrilled to see heroes live and up close

By Sun Xiaochen (China Daily) Updated: 2012-10-31 16:45

For the hardy and loyal golf fans of Zhengzhou, it was a dream come true to see Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy square off on their home course.

"When I first heard of the event in August, I thought they were kidding me," Feng Tian, a diehard fan of Woods, told China Daily during the duel between the world's top two golfers at the Jinsha Lake Golf Club in the capital city of Henan province on Monday.

"I felt like I was dreaming when I saw them strolling out at the opening ceremony this morning and it turned out to be reality," Feng said.

"I am so excited to see them head to head in action, especially in Zhengzhou, where the sport is relatively small," said the 38-year-old businessman, who brought his wife and son to the course.

As a minor spot on the nation's expending golf map, the city with a population of eight million has only three 18-hole courses in its suburban area.

Beijing has about 60, according to Beijing News.

Still, the fans turned out in force to follow the stars up and down over the 7,039 meter-long course; some of them even crashed over fences to take close-up photos of Woods and McIlroy while they were practicing in the morning.

Some of the fans paid a lot to watch the world No 1 and No 2 do battle, but they said it was worth the expense.

"It cost me a lot of money (at least $60,000, according to the club staff) to join the club, but it's definitely a good deal as I was invited to watch the showdown today," said Huang Jitao, a lifetime member of the Jinsha Lake Golf Club.

"Every member I know in the club came here today and probably brought their families to catch a glimpse of the stars and we could even walk close to them," said Huang, a 53-year-old car dealership owner.

The gallery, which numbered more than 2,000, was not just made up of local enthusiasts.

Chuck Boyer, an IT managing director, came from Beijing to support his US compatriot, Woods.

"You have to be a fan of him. His record and skills are unparalleled," Boyer said.

The Louisiana native said he was also impressed by the sport's explosion in the city.

"It's definitely growing in popularity. (The duel) will definitely help (promote the game) when you see some of the youngsters out there. You just hope that they take (the experience) and keep it and help the game grow."

Northern Irishman McIlroy and Woods were thrilled by the warm reception they received in Zhengzhou.

"I wouldn't describe it as crazy - I think it was enthusiastic," McIlroy said of the crowd's behavior after shooting a five-under-par 67 to outplay Woods by one stroke for the victory.

"It's great that there are so many people who will come out to watch us. The growth of the game here has been huge, even in the few years I've been visiting."

McIlroy, this year's PGA Championship winner, visited the club last October and played two holes on the second leg of the week-long, seven-city China Golf Challenge.

The Duel at Jinsha Lake marked Woods' sixth tour of China since 2001 and the 14-time major champion expects to remain a regular visitor to these shores.

"Everybody is really excited to have us here and watch us play," he said. "It will be fun to have something like this (regularly) to have a game like this to promote golf."

McIlroy was 6 years old when he first started watching Woods on television and believes there just may be a 6-year-old in China who could be inspired by him.

"I wouldn't be surprised at all if one of the next great players was to come from China," he said. "More and more are playing the game, and with it being an Olympic sport, the interest continues to grow in China."

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