News // Who’s watching and why

Who’s watching and why

The players were noticing the rising wind but the spectators, for the most part, were more interested in the players themselves on the third day of the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan. Dustin Johnson is their out-and-out favourite, although less for his long hitting and his deadly accuracy with a wedge than his good looks, his height and his fine manners. “He’s kind to everyone,” said the first in a long line of girls who was distributing hats.


“We all like him,” chipped in the rest.


Chinese crowds of today attract a wider variety of people than ever before.  What is more, there are plenty of children in the mix, perhaps because they are mostly all well-enough behaved to accommodate the time the game takes without needing a constant supply of ice-cream. Mind you, there are alternatives to the golf, with a tented village full of fun and games.


In one little gathering behind the practice range, there were children wearing black Xinjun Zhang shirts. If it set them a bit apart from the Johnson supporters, there was a reason for it.  Chan Zhang, and her sister, Goan, who were in the same group, explained that they were in Xinjun Zhang’s corner because Chan happened to be married to the player.


The two gigglingly admitted that they had given up hope of his winning the tournament this week – he was as many as 17 shots off the lead – but there was a story they wanted to tell.


Four years ago, they had gone to watch the China Tour in a week when Xinjun won the trophy. There was a big dinner for the player laid on by a mutual friend to which they had both been invited. “And that,” said Goan, “was the start of a romance between Xinjun and my sister. They married a year later.”


For today, Chan and Goan, the latter of whom happens to have a ten handicap, were going to walk round with Xinjun. However, in the light of his 60th place on the leaderboard, they had it in mind to keep more than half an eye on Johnson. Once again, it was down to looks.


Nor is it just the women who are captivated by the big American. Summer Xia, from the ranks of the Shanghai police force, summed Johnson up with the words, “He’s cool.”


“I’m tall, too, but I can’t rotate my shoulders as he does. I would take 100 to get round here because I have all the wrong muscles.” The reason for those muscles is because he was one of the top swimmers in Shanghai Sports University before he joined the police.


He was looking forward to taking pictures of the golfers but he had a picture on his phone which he suspected he would always treasure more. It was of Pranab Mukherjee, the President of India, who had been attending a BRICS summit in China. Xia had been one of the elite little cluster of officers charged with looking after the visiting dignitary. It had been the highlight of his year, though his day at Sheshan was shaping to be in the same league.


Johnson and Brooks Koepka had talked about how much fun they would have as they tried “to kick each other’s butts” this weekend.  Yet it would have been difficult to find anyone who isn’t having fun at Sheshan. Golf in China is buzzing.