Li Haotong – An Inspiration To Chinese Juniors
When Li Haotong steps on to the first tee at the WGC HSBC Champions tournament at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai at the end of October he will be carrying the hopes of a nation on his slim shoulders.
A graduate of the CGA-HSBC China Junior Golf Programme – a joint enterprise between the China Golf Association and HSBC that dates back to 2007 – Li is living proof that the scheme is beginning to deliver players of the highest quality on to the world stage.
When he was just 20 years of age, Li fulfilled a boyhood dreams by winning on home soil at the 2016 Volvo China Open. His breakthrough victory was an endorsement of his hard work in the junior ranks and would have acted as a stimulus to the youngsters, boys and girls, following in his footsteps.
This year, Li has consolidated his position in the upper echelons of the game. He has moved inside the world’s top 60 and, in January, claimed one of the European Tour’s most coveted titles, the Dubai Desert Classic. On the final day in Dubai he trailed Rory McIlroy by two strokes with eight holes to play but came through to claim victory over the former world No.1 by a single stroke. His 23-under-par total was a tournament record.
At Sheshan International GC at the end of the month, an elite group of juniors from the CGA-HSBC China Junior Golf Programme will get the chance to watch some of the world’s greatest players up close and will be able to show off their skills at a specially arranged clinic with one of the game’s star players in Australian Jason Day.
It is all part of a schedule which includes the HSBC National Junior Championship, the HSBC Junior Open, and winter/summer camps. The ambition of the programme is to support future champions and to provide a production line for the brightest talent in China.
Among those to have come through the junior ranks are: Ye Wo-cheng, who became the youngest player in European Tour history when he competed at the Volvo China Open in 2013 at the age of 12; Andy Zhang, who qualified to play at the 2012 US Open at 14; and Lin Xiyu, who has already won twice on the Ladies European Tour.
For further inspiration, the youngsters need look no further than McIlroy and Justin Rose for role models at the WGC HSBC Champions. Both players made waves within the game as juniors and have gone on to reach exalted heights.
As a schoolboy, McIlroy was obsessed with golf. He would dream of playing alongside Tiger Woods, spend hours practising on an artificial putting green in his garden, and at night would go to sleep while gripping a club. He was also ferociously competitive, so much so that by the age of ten he was world champion within his age group.
The 29-year-old Northern Irishman has since gone on to great things. He has topped the world rankings and has four major championships to his name. When he won The Open in 2014, he joined Jack Nicklaus and Woods as one of three golfers since the first Masters in 1934 to win three majors by the age of 25.
Rose, who will be defending his title at Sheshan International, announced himself to the wider world when he finished tied-fourth as a 17-year-old amateur at The Open in 1998 at Royal Birkdale. That year he pitched in from 50 yards for a birdie at the last hole and won the Silver Medal as leading amateur. He has since gone on to claim his first major, the US Open in 2013, and recently became world No.1 for the first time.