SHANGHAI - Now that the PGA Tour has its first Chinese players, there's reason to believe they won't be the last.
After a one-year hiatus, the PGA Tour China Series will resume in 2018 under a four-year agreement between the PGA Tour and the China Golf Association, with prize money and the number of tournaments increased.
"These will be brand new tournaments, providing players with more opportunity to participate, as well as to establish a route for China's golfers to get onto the world stage of golf," Zhang Xiaoning, president of the CGA, said on Wednesday.
"The development of golf tournaments here is not only helping the tour itself, but also helping China develop better and more professional golfers and raising the interest of our citizens in the sport."
The announcement was made on Wednesday at the HSBC Champions, the only World Golf Championships event in Asia. It was at the HSBC Champions four years ago that the PGA Tour China Series was launched.
The start of the 2017 season was delayed during discussions, and eventually scrapped. But in the previous three years it had a strong influence on developing Chinese golfers.
Dou Zecheng won four times and was China's player of the year in 2016, while Zhang Xinjun finished fifth on the money list to qualify for the Web.com Tour.
Dou won on the Web.com this year, while Zhang was twice a runner-up. Both finished among the top 25 on the money list to earn full PGA Tour cards.
Li Haotong played the China Series in 2014, and a year later he was one shot out of the lead going into the final round of the HSBC Champions.
Under enormous pressure from the home crowd, he didn't make a par until the seventh hole while playing alongside then world No 1 Jordan Spieth. Li tied for seventh.
"As soon as I walked onto the first tee, everyone was speaking Mandarin to me - 'Haotong, play well, good luck' - my mind was lost," he said on Tuesday night from the roof of a hotel in downtown Shanghai, where he was taking part in a promotion with Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Hideki Matsuyama. "I learned a lot from that."
Li won the Volvo China Open last year, and this summer he closed with a 63 to finish third in the British Open.
He chose to stay on the European Tour instead of trying to get a PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour Finals. He is No 66 in the world, the highest-ranked of all Chinese players.
"We are looking forward to strengthening the development of the sport of golf in China and to hopefully provide our players with not only a better platform to develop but more opportunities to strengthen their skills to have better performances," Zhang said.
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said the tournaments in 2018 would have a minimum purse of 1.5 million yuan (roughly $225,000), an increase from 2016. He said Dou and Zhang reaching the PGA Tour after just three years and the success of Chinese golfers on the Web.com Tour is encouraging.
"They followed the path from PGA Tour China to the Web.com Tour to the PGA Tour, and they are ideal examples of what you can do when you have immense talent, you dream big and you play the PGA Tour China," Monahan said.
The HSBC Champions sets aside six spots for Chinese players, and this year has a record seven players in the 78-man field because Li qualified for being among the top 30 on the European Tour.
"PGA Tour China was really important for me," Li said. "I grew up from nothing to playing the Web.com. It's very helpful for China golf."
PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan shakes hands with Zhang Xiaoning, president of the China Golf Association, after announcing a deal at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai on Wednesday to resume the PGA Tour China Series. They are flanked by Zhang Xinjun (left) and Dou Zecheng, the first Chinese players to earn full PGA Tour cards.Doug Ferguson / AP
(China Daily10/27/2017 page22)
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