Hong Kong: Highly tipped young Chinese golfer Li Hao-tong is aiming to become the first player from his country to join the PGA Tour as he chases his ultimate dream of winning a major.
The mainland’s number three player, who turned 20 in August, said it would take three years to become comfortable with the field after gaining his PGA Tour card and was under no illusion of the challenges that await him at the highest level.
But the ambition of the Hunan-born six-footer is unmistakable.
“If you can stay there (on the PGA Tour) forever, you will win,” Li told AFP as he practised his drives at the Hong Kong Golf Club, ahead of the Hong Kong Open, which gets under way Thursday.
“It’s my dream to one day win a major.”
The trophy he most covets is the Masters and despite the daunting scale of the challenge, he has already made impressive strides since turning pro in 2011.
Last year he became the first Chinese player to join the Web.com Tour and he is currently based at the Bishops Gate Golf Academy in Florida.
Li has been hailed as the successor to Chinese golfing pioneers such as Zhang Lian-wei and Liang Wen-chong, but he has already achieved more than his compatriots had by his age.
In just 10 weeks, from September to November last year, he won a US$1 million OneAsia tournament and three PGA Tour China events to break into the world’s top 200.
Li has also come to symbolise the growing popularity of golf in mainland China but he cautioned that obstacles to the game’s growth remained.
He singled out the anti-corruption drive of President Xi Jinping, which he blamed for the closure of dozens of courses.
In March Beijing ordered the closure of 66 illegal golf courses in a crackdown on a violation of rules protecting arable land and conserving water.
But some commentators have suggested the move is an extension of Xi’s high-profile campaign against extravagance on the part of public officials in a country where golf is regarded as an elite past-time.
“Last year it felt like golf was getting more popular but now it’s getting a little trouble,” he said.
Yet despite being based in the United States, Li said he remains proudly Chinese and excited to play at the Fanling course in the New Territories, from where the skyscrapers of Shenzhen, just over the border, sparkle in the sunshine.
“I always have China in my heart and Hong Kong is part of China, and it’s the first time I have played golf here,” he said.
“This week will be more enjoyable for me. I am not a European Tour player, I am not an Asian Tour player, I just want to play with some good players.”
In the past he has singled out world number four Bubba Watson as someone he’d like to emulate but at the Hong Kong Open he held up England’s world number seven Justin Rose, who won the 2013 US Open, as someone he admired.
“He’s a really nice guy — and he’s won a major,” Li added with a grin.