Rising star: Ye Wocheng beat Tiger Woods’ mark to win world junior title
Aged just 12, Ye Wocheng will become the youngest golfer to play in a European Tour event after he qualified for the Volvo China Open yesterday. “I’ve dreamed of this since I was a boy,” he said.
If that quote will raise a smile across the game, then his achievement will drop many jaws. Poor Guan Tianlang was left to ask himself: “What took me so long?” He was a full year older at 13 when he set the mark last year.
To think, it used to shock the game when teens qualified for senior professional events. Now it has pre-teens accomplishing the feat. Welcome to the brave new world of golf as the Asian explosion starts to take effect.
Ye will tee off at Tianjin Binhai Lake Golf Club on May 2 alongside the likes of Paul Casey courtesy of his two-under total in the two-round Western China qualifying. The Dongguan schoolboy was able to post a triple-bogey eight and still finish third.
With his father on the bag there were a few nervous moments after firing a four-under 68 on the first day. Ye actually led the field when racing to the turn of his second round with three birdies to take him to seven-under. But he then dropped shots at the 11th and the 14th, before that calamity on the 16th, and it required all of his startling maturity to last until home at the Wolong Valley Country Club. Li Xinyang, who won the qualifier, looked comparatively ancient at 18 years of age.
Despite his tender years, Ye is already well known on the international circuit. He won the US Kids World Junior Championship in San Diego in 2010 and 2011 and finished runner-up last year. He also holds the tournament record of 12-under, beating the old mark of a certain player called Tiger Woods. This year, Ye won the Guangdong Junior Championships by a record 18 shots.
“My dad was my first coach, so I owe him a lot for starting me off and helping me to develop my swing,” he said. “He’s a pretty good player himself - he’s off an eight handicap. He helped me realise my dream. A year ago I set out to break Guan’s European Tour record.”
At least, Guan has a Masters berth as consolation. Thanks to winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, Guan will smash Matteo Manassero’s record of competing at Augusta as a 16-year-old. This comes after another Chinese, Andy Zhang, became the US Open’s youngest player as a 14-year-old last June. Little wonder so many agents are looking to the East for rising stars. There have been Tour wins by Liang Wenchong and Zhang Lianwei, but China has only three players in the world’s top 650.
The future, however, is there for all to see, with huge interest in the country to be satisfied. Greg Norman has been appointed as the national team coach to help identify and nurture the side which will play in the Olympics in 2016 as golf returns to the Games after a 112-year absence.
For his part, Ye is merely trying to emulate Jason Hak, the Hong Kong teenager who set the record for the youngest player, at 14, to make a European Tour cut in his national open in 2008. “Playing in a European Tour event will be a whole new experience for me so I’ll be practising very hard,” Ye said. “I will also be doing some gym work to get stronger.”
He will do so at his local course under the tutelage of David Williams. “He’s been shooting in the 60s regularly over the past few months so I am not surprised at all to see him qualify,” Williams said.
“We made it our goal to train hard and to focus on breaking Guan Tianlang’s record, and now that goal has been achieved.”
SOURCE: Daily Telegraph
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