There's another local prodigy, he's just a step behind
Updated: 2013-04-11 07:21
By Tym Glaser (China Daily)
One can only imagine the thoughts that will be flooding through Li Haotong's mind as he follows the progress of compatriot Guan Tianlang during the Masters, which tees off at the hallowed Augusta National Golf Club on Thursday.
Awe and delight? Jealousy and frustration? Or a combination of both?
You see, Li, all of 17 years of age, is China's other male golfing prodigy, but it just so happens that the Chinese teen teeing it up at Augusta is only two years past his 12th birthday and the world spotlight will be well and truly placed upon him as long as he tours those 18 holes in Georgia.
In an interview with China Daily, Li was full of praise for his young compatriot, but was more focused on the direction his career was taking after a superb performance at the New Zealand PGA Championship in the picturesque South Island town of Queenstown, which saw him finish tied for fifth last month.
"He is a good golfer and pretty young," Li said of Guan.
"Sure, his achievements have inspired me to work harder, and hopefully I'll be able to play in a major in the coming years.
"My immediate goal is to improve my skills and accumulate more experience in golf. When I achieve these targets, I might go back to study at college," the lanky Beijng-born player said.
Li took up the game at the age of 10 and steadily progressed through the ranks, thanks in part to the financial support of his family in the not-too-inexpensive game.
While Guan strides down the Augusta fairways with the world's best this week, Li's future gait will be just as confident, but tactically shorter.
"I just want to keep progressing every day, step by step," he said.
"First, I want to get membership on the JGTO (Japan Golf Tour), then maybe the European Tour or PGA Tour and steadily prove myself in international golf tournaments.
A career-best round of 65 followed by a 66 at the par-72 course in Queenstown certainly provided the young pro with a boost, but much work still needs to be done.
People close to the Li camp say that while his game is strong, they eagerly await him fill out his frame.
"My tee shot is my strength. I can hit long and accurately. On the other hand, my short game and mentality need to improve," Li said.
Already a member of the national squad, Li has the 2016 Olympics in Rio firmly in his sights.
"It would be an honor to represent China at the Olympics, so my focus is on getting more world ranking points," the player currently nestled at 869 in the world said.
There he could meet his golfing hero, but unlike most of the world's club swinging youngsters, it's not Tiger Woods.
"Like every young golfer, Woods helped influence my passion for golf, but my favorite player is Phil Mickelson. He's a legend and a great guy. He is so kind and modest with every fan and everyone. I hope I can achieve the same kind of success and reputation that he has."
And his ultimate golfing goal is also to follow in the cleat marks of Tiger and Phil.
"Win one major first and then reach their level."
Let's see who gets there first: Li or Guan.
(China Daily 04/11/2013 page23)