To the proud satisfaction of China’s burgeoning golf fan base (and a roaring crowd at Luxe Hills), Liang Wenchong pulled out a narrow victory to emerge victorious over Korean competitor Kim Hyung-Tae at the Chengdu Open today. The purse? One million dollars.
Today’s victory cements Liang’s position as the rising star under China’s ambition to develop a world-class presence on the international golf circuit. Even though Liang’s currently ranked 90th in the world, he’s currently credited as being the only Mainland Chinese golfer admitted into the top 100 of the Official World Golf Ranking. Although China and Liang have a long way to go, confidence and expectations for the future are very high.
China’s Rising Golf Program
Although Wenchong is the number one golfer in China (recently surpassing his mentor Zhang Lianwei, the first Chinese golfer to achieve international notoriety), he’s still ranked well below the top 50 international golfers, currently falling in 90th place. But that doesn’t deter China’s ambitious fans and organizers, including golf officials like Zhang Xiaoning who said:
“Golf is a sport which demands more technique than athleticism. It’s a sport quite suitable for Chinese. I’m sure as long as it is developed under the state-support system it will produce some of the world’s best athletes – like we do in table tennis and badminton.”
I doubt Tiger Woods and or Vijay Singh are losing sleep over the Communist Golf Agenda, but China certainly has a lot of room for growth. Over 20,000 golf courses dot the United States while China aims for 100 golf courses in the Beijing vicinity within the next 3 years. Golf is catching on with China’s booming upper class, who celebrate their newfound wealth by living extravagantly and taking up past times once once frowned upon by the Communist leadership. The new China rich puff on Davidoff’s in drop-top Bentley’s and, for this audience, golf is a shoe-in. The challenge, according to Zhang Xiaoning, is to garner state support and open public golf courses around China, inviting lower-income Chinese to enjoy the sport and expand its influence. As the State signs on and golf courses pop up around the country, national golf organizations cast a wider net in their search for star athletes who can reap attention on the world stage.
A Chinese Golfer on the Podium
The ultimate goal? A Chinese golfer standing on the podium at the 2016 Olympics Games in Rio. Now that golf (and rugby) will be included in the Olympic games, it reinforces Chinas commitment to golfing excellence. Says Zhang Xiaoning:
“There is unbalanced development between Olympic sports and non-Olympic sports in China. Golf had been restricted to a small group of people. Things will change now as history tells us China is able to lift an Olympic sport from nowhere to the world’s top level once it is included in the state-support system.”
Jiang Xiaoyu, former executive vice-president of the Beijing Olympics Organizing Committee, shares Zhang’s confidence now that golf has been upgraded to an Olympic event:
“I believe as long as we can get enough support, China will at least win a medal at the 2020 Olympic Games.”
What Really Matters?
A 32-year old Chinese golfer won $1 million at Luxe Hills just outside of Chengdu, but the news that grabbed headlines dealt with issues of much greater importance to the majority of local residents: this week Chengdu’s water supply was contaminated by garbage being dumped directly into local rivers, a list of 13 offenders was released in Chengdu’s infamous “Cancer Oil” scandal in local hotpot restaurants and bus stop benches to deter the homeless were integrated into the city’s bus system. Just as with other many grand Party projects to enhance “national pride,” golf as a sport interests only the select few rich Chinese that watched Liang Wenchong beat the Korean on the (well-watered) green expanse of the Luxe Hills golf course.
What do you think?