China Seen As An Unlikely Development Ground For Latest Golf Phenoms
China “might seem an unlikely incubator for golf prodigies," but “wunderkinds are now beginning to infiltrate some of the highest levels” of the sport, according to Brook Larmer, who looks at the growth of the sport in a N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE cover story. Chairman Mao "banned the game” in ‘49 and “had the handful of golf courses that predated the Communist revolution plowed under." But players are emerging -- including 14-year-old Andy Zhang, who played in last year’s U.S. Open, and 14-year-old Guan Tianlang, who "dazzled at the Masters." The prodigies "keep getting younger," as 12-year-old Ye Wocheng "became the youngest golfer ever to compete in a European Tour event when he played in the China Open" in May. Ye's father said that Nike "has been sending Ye a steady supply of free golf clothes and clubs since he was 9." These three players "may be just the beginning,” as there is a “small but growing band of younger Chinese golfers" who “train nonstop, with very few days off, under a parental discipline that can rival the toughest coaches in the Chinese sports system." Meanwhile, corporations "are eager to find a figure" who can help "build a sport that appeals to China’s status-conscious elites." Thirty years ago, "there were no golfers or golf courses in mainland China." Today "there are around 400,000 regular golfers, a number that could easily double by 2020 as the middle class expands." The number of courses in China "has grown to some 600 today from 170 in 2004, with 1,000 projected by 2020." The state-run China Golf Association has developed an $80M national golf training center in Shandong Province, on China’s eastern coast. The facility "is meant to surpass the most advanced training centers in the West" (N.Y. TIMES MAGAZINE, 7/14 issue).