The statistics were downright crazy as the leaders set off on their third rounds in the WGC-HSBC Champions. Matt Fitzpatrick, Xander Schauffele and Rory McIlroy, playing alongside each other in the final group, made five birdies out of a possible six over their first two holes, while not too many minutes later there was a situation in which the top ten had made twenty-three birdies out of no more than thirty-five holes.
Li Haotong, who at that point was lying second on eleven under par to Fitzpatrick’s thirteen under, was among those to have started out with three birdies in a row, with the locals’ cheers ringing round the Sheshan course.
By mid-morning, the crowds were there in their thousands and, every now and then, there would be a stream of children shepherded by a flag-bearing teacher. The children all belonged to the CGA – HSBC Junior Programme which had started at the Champions tournaments in 2006. It turned out that the children in question had come from all over China and were as well-versed in golf as they were in maths, science, Chinese, English and everything else on their primary school schedules.
The first person to go missing from one of these crocodiles of little ones was a mother rather than her offspring, though the child wasted no time in telling his teacher where he would find her: “If you find Rory, you’ll find my mum.”
Meanwhile, one Chinese player who has done as much as any other to get play up and running in the Land of the Dragon was giving a clinic to still more juniors on the practice ground. It was Shanshan Feng, the first Chinese player, man or woman, to win a major when she captured the 2012 Wegmans LPGA.
She was accompanied by Lu Liu, who had come through the Junior Programme, and the two of them were telling a wide-eyed Chinese media corps about their progress on the States.
Shanshan explained how, when she started playing in the States, she would miss all the cuts. However, every time she missed, she would go out and watch the leaders. “I would watch from outside the ropes and look and see what I had to do to be like them. What I discovered is that they weren’t the geniuses I assumed they were. I was not that far behind. It made me realise that it wasn’t just Americans, Scots and English people who could play golf. We could play it too.
She went on to say that Liu had benefited from the latest ideas on the coaching front. “When I started, the most important thing was to hit straight.
“When Liu arrived, she had been taught to hit hard. At first, I thought she was crazy because she was hitting the ball here, there and everywhere. Then I changed my mind. Liu soon became as straight as she was long.
“She wasn’t crazy. Her way was the right way.”