Notebook: Chinese Golf Boom At Junior July 22, 2013 By David Shefter, USGA

Andy Zhang, 15, of China, shot 7-over 151 in stroke-play qualifying, then advanced to match play out of a 12-for-8 playoff at the 2013 U.S. Junior Amateur. (USGA/Steve Gibbons)

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Here’s all you need to know about the emergence of golf in the People’s Republic of China. There are almost as many golfers from China (5) in this week’s U.S. Junior Amateur at Martis Camp Club as there are from Canada (6).

China didn’t build its first golf course until 1984, 90 years after the USGA was founded, and has approximately 350,000 core golfers.

There are good golfers starting to come up, said Andy Zhang, 15, who last year at The Olympic Club became the youngest qualifier in U.S. Open history and the first Chinese golfer to play in the championship. Golf in China didn’t start until 30-35 years ago. It takes time for it to develop.

Now that golf is part of the Olympic program for the 2016 Games, the Chinese likely will devote more resources to player development. One can look at tennis, where Li Na became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam singles title at the 2011 French Open.

Last year, Shanshan Feng became the first Chinese golfer to win a major golf championship, taking the Wegmans LPGA Championship.

And this past April, 14-year-old Tianlang Guan was not only the youngest-ever competitor at the Masters, he was also the lone amateur to make the 36-hole cut.

Guan earned his invitation by winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur, a competition that was founded in 2009 with assistance from Augusta National Golf Club and The R&A. The champion receives a Masters invite, plus exemptions into the U.S. Amateur and British Amateur.

That event is just one motivational carrot for young Chinese golfers.

Another competition giving Chinese golf a boost is the USA-China Youth Golf Match, which is co-sponsored by the USGA and the China Golf Association. The third playing of this event will occur Aug. 2-3 in China with four boys and four girls from each country competing in a two-day, match-play event.

China boasts more than 300 courses, although unlike in the U.S., virtually all of them are private clubs.   

I started playing eight years ago and not many people were playing, said Zhang, who now lives in Florida. You do have to be from a rich family to be able to play this game [in China].

Shuai Ming Wong, 13, of Beijing said there are about 10 elite golfers in his age bracket back in China. He has spent a month in the U.S. competing in various events, including this week’s Junior Amateur and last week’s Junior World Championships in San Diego.

It’s really worth it, said Wong of coming to America. We have really good competition [in China], but of course not as good as the tournaments in America. But I am pretty sure there are a lot of juniors [in China] who are going to be very successful.

Wong shot 12-over 156 and missed the cut for match play, while Zhang used an eagle-2 at the 16th hole to get into a playoff at 7-over 151.

Two others made the cut. Zecheng Dou, a quarterfinalist at last week’s U.S. Amateur Public Links, rallied to shoot a second-round 70 and made the cut with a shot to spare at 6-over 150, while Cheng Jin shot a 71 to finish at 1-over 143, the best score among the Chinese contingent.

Tiger Lee (154), of Hong Kong China, missed the cut by three strokes.

With talented youngsters such as Zhang and Guan making history in major championships, they could become trailblazers in much the same way as Se Ri Pak was for Korean players.

It would be my honor if I could give other kids my age or kids younger than me the motivation to play the game, said Zhang.

Opportunity Knocks

Brian Mogg had forgotten all about the U.S. Junior since earning first-alternate status at his sectional qualifier in Spokane, Wash., on June 24.

That was before the USGA phoned his father, Gary, last Thursday. Two spots were being held in case any Junior Amateur-eligible player advanced to the finals of last week’s U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in Lorton, Va. When that didn’t happen, those spots were released and Mogg got into the championship.

They surprised me at dinner saying I got in, said Mogg, 17, of Sammamish, Wash., a Seattle suburb. This is the last thing I expected.

Mogg’s mother is a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines, so Brian and his father were able to fly standby. But because he got into the field at such a late date, the closest accommodations were in Reno, 35 miles east of Martis Camp. Mogg was also unable to secure a caddie, so he carried his own bag for the two stroke-play qualifying rounds.

It didn’t affect the left-hander. He qualified for match play with rounds of 75-71 (2-over 146).

If the name sounds familiar, it should. His uncle, also named Brian, is a highly respected golf instructor in Orlando, Fla., who has worked with numerous PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour players. The elder Mogg also competed in the U.S. Junior Amateur 35 years ago, reaching the quarterfinals at Wilmington (Del.) Country Club before losing to eventual runner-up Keith Banes. He went on to play at Ohio State, where he was an All-American, and eventually played the professional tours before becoming an instructor.

The younger Brian, who will attend Washington State in the fall of 2014, is one of his uncle’s students and he occasionally flies to Florida for practice sessions. The elder Mogg also has an academy at Chambers Bay, site of the 2015 U.S. Open, not far from where the family grew up in Tacoma. In fact, young Brian caddied at the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay for Michael Aber, who missed the cut.

Playing Through Pain

George Cunningham woke up Tuesday morning with throbbing pain above his left shoulder. It’s something the 17-year-old from Tucson, Ariz., had never experienced before.

Late in his round, the pain was so bad that a call went out for the medical staff. But Cunningham managed to play through his physical issues to complete a 3-over 75 for a 36-hole total of even-par 144.

I couldn’t really turn much at all, said Cunningham, who is competing in his fourth U.S. Junior Amateur. I think partly [that’s why I struggled], but I should have played better. I’m not too happy with [the score]. I’ll take some meds and possibly get a massage, and hopefully it will be better by tomorrow.

At last week’s U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in Lorton, Va., Cunningham advanced to the Round of 32. He’s hoping that experience will help him go a step further when match play begins at the Junior Amateur on Wednesday. He missed the cut at the Junior Amateur in 2009 and 2012 and lost in the first round in 2011.

I haven’t played much match play, he said. Playing against the older guys [last week] helped a lot.

Friendship Forged At Junior

Golf has a way of bringing people together, whether playing or volunteering.

Carol Hughes, of Stratham, N.H., helped out at the 2012 U.S. Junior Amateur, which was contested at the Golf Club of New England in her hometown, where she was assigned to work with scoreboard calligrapher Terry Kocon. The two instantly hit it off and continued to stay in touch long after the competition ended.

As the 2013 Junior Amateur approached, Hughes arranged to again work with Kocon, who has manned the scoreboard at the U.S. Junior Amateur the past six years. Carol and her husband Allen flew out to Reno and are making the daily one-hour drive from their timeshare condo in South Lake Tahoe to assist Kocon at the scoreboard.

[The event being in Lake Tahoe] certainly played a part in it, but it was as much to work with Terry again, said Carol Hughes. This is a little nicer [than New Hampshire]. It’s not as humid here. This is just beautiful.

Hughes, who retired 10 years ago from Hughes Aircraft, is no stranger to volunteering at golf events. She worked the Presidents Cup in Virginia and several PGA Tour tournaments at the TPC at Avenel and Congressional Country Club when the Kemper Insurance Open was held in the Washington, D.C., area.

So far, this week has been about enjoying the area and reacquainting with Kocon, a graphic designer from Albuquerque, N.M., who does scoreboards at various PGA, LPGA and USGA events from March through October. Carol and Allen hope to walk the course when match play begins on Wednesday.

This has been well worth it, said Carol of the trip.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer with the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.