China’s female golfers closing the gap on Asia’s elite

China’s female golfers closing the gap on Asia’s elite

The Straits Times - Sports·2024-02-28 21:00

SINGAPORE – For much of the early 2000s, women’s golf in China lived in the shadows of their neighbours Japan and South Korea. While Asia’s elite female golfers were shining on the world stage, China had no representatives.

In the LPGA rankings dated Feb 12, 2007, Japan (24) and South Korea (29) golfers made up more than half of the world’s top 100 players. Then, China’s top-ranked player was No. 573 Wang Chun.

That was before the arrival of Feng Shanshan, who rose to prominence after becoming the first golfer from China to play on the LPGA Tour in 2008.

But even before Feng was finding her feet on the international stage, plans were already in place to kickstart the growth of the sport in China. In 2007, the China Golf Association (CGA) sanctioned the CGA-HSBC China Junior Golf Programme for those aged 6 to 18, with tournaments covering over 25 cities in 18 provinces throughout the country.

About 124,000 players have graduated from the programme, with two of its alumni – 2023 Women’s PGA Championship winner Yin Ruoning (No. 4) and Lin Xiyu (No. 10) – in the world’s current top 10.

There are also 15 other China players in the top 500, no doubt inspired by Feng, who won the Women’s PGA Championship in 2012 and became world No. 1 in 2017.

Yin and Lin, who are in Singapore for the Feb 29-March 3 HSBC Women’s World Championship at Sentosa Golf Club, told The Straits Times that they had benefited from the programme.

“It is the biggest junior tour in China,” Yin said in English. “I played the best players in my age group and that gave me a lot of experience which helped me in my career.”

In 2023, 14 junior tournaments were held in the country. Young golfers are grouped into three age categories – 6-9, 10-12 and 13-18 – and points are accumulated based on their finishing positions.

Lin said the programme gave her the platform to launch her professional career.

“Almost once a month, I fly somewhere (in China) to play a tournament,” said the 28-year-old in English. “I always have the chance to win some prize and I think throughout the time, it gave me a lot of confidence. And because of good performance, I was picked to be part of the national team.”

Lin’s golf journey began when she was eight. Her father was a colleague of Feng’s mother. Watching Feng’s rise from obscurity was an inspiration to her.

“She (Feng) wasn’t famous when I first met her. She was still playing in China and hadn’t got on the (LPGA) Tour. She was the first person I watched hitting golf balls and her journey after really inspired me,” Lin said.

Now, the world No. 10 hopes to help grow the sport for women in China.

She added: “Golf in China was a very young sport when I first started, not very organised, not many people playing. My relationship with Shanshan is unique. She was very important in my golf career and I do hope I can make the same impact.”

There are signs of promise, as Yin has already emulated Feng by winning a Major title and becoming world No. 1 in 2023.

“Last year, when I played the Buick LPGA Shanghai, I saw a lot of junior golfers who just came up to me and said ‘you’re my hero, you’re my role model’... I think that’s what motivates me. I want to be a better role model for them and I need to do a better job,” Yin said.

Lin believes China’s future is bright, adding: “Obviously Japan and South Korea have always been good, but... we are growing really fast too. I think with all the support, the chances are that Chinese players are just going to get better and better.”


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