A glimpse of the future
Not too long after Phil Mickelson had been talking of how Chinese golfers will soon be infiltrating the upper reaches of the World Rankings, he was joined on Sheshan's short 17th by a 12-year-old girl on the junior programme run by HSBC in conjunction with the China Golf Association.
After a broad smile, Lucy Shi Yuting, who had won a qualifying event to play the hole with the defending champion, knocked her six-iron from the ladies' tee - a distance of around 155 yards - to 15 feet. That done, her putt just lipped out and she made off with a par.
"She was incredible," said Mickelson. "She has a wonderful swing and a good putting-stroke. I just hope she carries on like that."
The child has been doing something of a Tiger Woods in China, with her number of wins in national HSBC junior age-group competitions over the last three years up to 13. Yet there is one result which stands out above the rest. In a recent 18-hole event, this Jiyai Shin-in-the-making had nine birdies. "As for her score," said the coach from the China Golf Association, "that was a 64."
Colin Montgomerie, who has come to Sheshan from Hainan to work with the HSBC juniors, did not find it too difficult to believe what he was saying. After all, he had just spent an hour and more walking up and down the practice ground studying swings and offering encouragement in the shape of believe-it-or-not gasps and congratulatory hand-shakes.
"They're not just hitting shots," marvelled Monty. "They're playing proper golf and. in almost every case, there is nothing you would change in their technique. They all have these lovely turns and follow-throughs."
Serious golf though the children were playing, there were no serious faces. There were peels of laughter punctuating the session, with each of the boys and girls imploring the Ryder Cup captain to watch them some more.
Monty, who has had a few days to recover from losing to Lorena Ochoa by two shots in the mixed event on Hainan Island, laughingly made out that he was particularly wary of the little girls. He said that he had no intention of being around when these toddlers were ready to challenge him.
"Heaven knows how good they're going to be a few years down the road," he said. "It's not too difficult to see where the game is going."
Mickelson is poised to do his bit for China's juniors. Next June, he is opening a new course and an academy near Beijing, while he has another resort and academy which could be ready two years from now in Kunming. At the same time, he is having his latest book on the short-game translated into Mandarin.
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