- POSTED: 28 Apr 2014 17:17
China's most decorated golfer Liang Wenchong says it could be a decade before a Chinese player breaks into the top ranks of the game but he's certain it will happen.
SHENZHEN: China's most decorated golfer Liang Wenchong says it could be a decade before a Chinese player breaks into the top ranks of the game but he's certain it will happen.
At the Volvo China Open that finished on Sunday, just five out of 32 home hopefuls made the cut despite the Genzon Golf Club in Shenzhen pulling out all the stops to promote the success of local talent.
One of those to miss out was China's great hope, Masters sensation Guan Tianlang, who made the cut at Augusta last year aged just 14 years and five months.
The host of China's 20th national championship offered to double the purse of any Chinese who finished in the top five and over the past three months let home entrants play the course for free.
It also provided accommodation and food during that time at no cost to local competitors, many of whom qualified for the $3.2 million European Tour-OneAsia event through the China Golf Association (CGA).
"Chinese golf is in very good shape because there are a lot of players coming up," Liang, the only golfer from China to have been ranked in the world's top 100, told AFP.
"The younger players are very good because the CGA is supporting more and more tournaments in China but I think a good Chinese player probably needs another 10 years to grow," he added.
Liang, 35, believes that not only are China's youngsters getting better but they are benefiting immensely from ever-increasing opportunities to progress to the international stage.
America's PGA Tour recently established a local circuit in China, offering players a new route to golf's top level.
The PGA Tour of China is rolling out 12 events this year with professionals able to play their way onto America's Web.com Tour, the "gateway" to the world-leading PGA Tour.
Each tournament has a purse of $200,000 and players will also be able to pick up world ranking points, which are needed to reach the Olympics.
"World golf is giving them (Chinese youngsters) more opportunity," said Liang, who finished in a tie for 54th place in Shenzhen. "It is easier to get world ranking points these days... they'll soon be famous."
Guan Tianlang is the talk of Chinese golf after his exploits at the 2013 Masters, which he followed up by reaching the weekend play at his next PGA event, the Zurich Classic in New Orleans. But he missed the cut in December's Hong Kong Open and in Shenzhen last week.
The 15-year-old amateur shot a disappointing 76 in his second round over the par-72 course to miss the cut by three strokes but the Guangzhou schoolboy believes he's making good progress.
Liang, ranked 137 in the world going into the China Open, agrees but cautions not to expect too much too soon.
"Guan must think for himself because as he grows the pressure will get bigger and bigger," said Liang.
"I just want him to learn from his experiences and be at peace with himself as he progresses in the game.
"Guan is very good but he still needs some years to develop, maybe eight or 10 years before he can break into the top ranks."
Golf in China has come a long way since the first course was opened in Guangdong province in 1984.
There are now more than 500 courses and tens of thousands of youngsters across the country enrolled in academies hoping to become the next Tiger Woods.
As well as Guan, youngsters Andy Zhang and Ye Wocheng have also made an impression on the world stage.
Zhang was only 14 when he played in the US Open in 2012 while Ye teed up at last year's China Open aged just 12, becoming the youngest player in the history of the European Tour.
Li Haotong, 18, made a third-round charge in Shenzhen, finishing one-under, three shots behind the leading Chinese player Ouyang Zheng.
The Hunan youngster, who turned professional at 15, played the Genzon course 30 times in the run-up to the tournament.
"It's the trend that Chinese players are getting better and better," said Li.
"In the near future a big name will come up the rankings but I'm not sure if we're there yet."