Zhang Lianwei, the first Chinese to play in the US Masters, has some useful advice for aspiring golfers in his homeland. Play golf, but focus more on your studies, Zhang said.
“I always encourage kids to play golf and I’ll always help them develop their skills,” he said. “But my advice to them is not to neglect their studies. Professional golf is a difficult place to make it to.”
Zhang was speaking at the Macau Open, which started yesterday and runs until Sunday. He is the only two-time winner of the event – in 2001 and 2002.
The 38-year-old expressed disappointment over missing the cut at the Masters, but still believed it was a push in the right direction for young Chinese golfers.
“China has only had a golfing history of 20 years and already there is a Chinese player who can play in the greatest golf event in the world,” Zhang said. “It sends a very positive message to the next generation. This is a good start for Chinese golf and it’s meaningful to me. I’m making history.”
The Shenzhen native, who is China’s No 1 player, launched the Zhang Lianwei Junior Golf Tournament, which attracts 120 top young players from around the country.
“I want to provide more opportunities for the kids because there is not enough competition in China,” Zhang said. “I hope that, in the future, there will be more kids from China playing golf around the world. Golf is good physical training for them, but they should not neglect their studies.”
Ireland’s Padraig Harrington, who is favoured to win the Macau Open, offered similar advice. Harrington, who is involved in developing the sport in Asia, said: “I’m a qualified accountant. I didn’t think I was going to turn pro until I was 21. Very few of us make it as professional golfers so you’ve got to have a second string to your bow. It takes the pressure off your golf.”
Harrington believes it won’t be long before China starts to develop top-flight players who can compete at the highest level.
“You’ll probably see a Chinese winner of the Masters in the future,” he said. “He Zhang has started something that will probably snowball. I think there will be many great Chinese players in the years to come.”
This article originally appeared in the May 7, 2004 edition of the South China Morning Post.