Top seed Zhang is among the talented field at St. Andrews
Henan, China, June 6: The new season on the China Golf Tour will tee off with the 1.35 million RMB St Andrews Henan Open on Thursday.
A total of 133 players from 16 different countries will step up to the tee, giving themselves every opportunity to get their season off to a good start.
Currently seeded number one, Zhang Huilin, who is from Hunan province, is upbeat of his chances despite facing the pressure that comes from his status this week.
“There’s pressure but it’s also good as it gives me more motivation to do better. It’s nice to see familiar faces back on the Tour. ”
“The field is going to be very strong especially with several foreign and international players in the field this week.
“Having said that, their presence over the last three years have boost the standard of golf in China and as players, we welcome that,” said the 27-year-old who has already won twice on the China Golf Tour in 2015 and 2016.
“I’m feeling confident and hope to display that good form when the tournament start,” added a confident Zhang.
Zhang still remembers his final day charge at the St Andrews Henan Open last year and is looking forward to better his third place finish and keep the trophy on home soil.
“I usually make my charge on the weekend and was very pleased when I carded a 69 on the final day. This event is held on home soil and I really like to do well so that we can keep the trophy in China,” said Zhang.
She Zihan is also determined to put up a good showing at the St Andrews Henan Open. Playing in his second year as a professional, She is optimistic about the week ahead.
“I’m feeling confident as compared to last year. My playing style will not be as conservative as last year. I’m getting more distance on my shots, averaging about 290 yards now,” said She.
Having been drafted into the national team this year, She had the opportunity to compete at the European Tour’s Shenzhen International as well as the China Open.
“I’m overall quite pleased with my maiden debut at the China Open. Just that I felt that my rhythm was disrupted when it came to the weekend as I was not comfortable with the pace of play in a two-ball format.
“But it’s good training as it teaches me how to play under different competitive environment. My form is good and my goal is to finish inside the top-10,” said She.
When asked about his hopes of winning the title, She sheepishly said, “One? Two? Let’s see. Dou Zecheng and Xinjun have shown the way and given us lots of encouragement to do well. There’s lots of talent in China and the standard of golf is rising,” said She.
While She and Zhang are playing in their second and fifth year respectively as professionals, 37-year-old Yuan Hao is into his 15th year as a professional.
Only a year older than Olympic champion Justin Rose, Yuan Hao has been labelled as an ‘’old gun” and has seen the coming of age of the next generation of golfers from China.
“The goal is to win the championship and I’m very confident of doing that. I don’t consider myself old and I feel very young at heart. I still have what it takes to win at tournaments,” said Yuan Hao.
When asked who will prevail if he or Zhang face off each other in the final round, Hao said, “I’m confident I’ll win.
Zhang said, “I played with Yuan in Shenzhen at my beginning, he helped me a lot. He’s considered an old gun by many but I’ll let him stand in my way of a victory.”
With more Tour partners and advertising channels for the China Golf Tour, winning on Tour has become more lucrative.“My goal is to finish on top of the Order of Merit. Although I cannot control the results, I’ll try my best to play well in every event and give myself a chance of achieving my goal,” said Zhang.
American Shotaro Ban is meanwhile ready to put up a stiff challenge against the strong local field.
“I would like to finish at the top of the Order of Merit. You work hard to achieve the goals that you’ve set for yourself. I played and practiced a lot with Alex who finished third last year. If he can do it, I can do it too.
“He said it was a good opportunity to come out and experience playing on the other side of the world and compete on a consistent basis,” said the University of California Berkley graduate.
The course conditions are back in perfect conditions after having experienced heavy rains on Monday. Yuan now hopes to bank on his course familiarity to victory this week.“I’m very familiar with this golf course. The greens are in very good condition and playing conditions are ideal. I’ll be very focused this week and not give myself too much pressure.
American Harry Boyd, who was one of the five players to earn his spot at the Monday qualifier, knows what to expect at the St Andrews Golf Club and has already mapped out his strategy.
“Finding the fairway is probably the most important thing. You don’t need to be particularly long, but just have to hit it straight. You have to sacrifice being aggressive so that you give yourself a good chance to have a go at the greens. It’s about being patient and try to put yourself into position,” said Boyd.
The official press conference for the St Andrews Henan Open will take place at 10.30am at the St Andrews Golf Club on Wednesday, just before the pro-am tournament which will take place in the afternoon.
The tournament gets underway on Thursday and will be played over four rounds till Sunday. Will the trophy be kept on home soil? Let’s look forward to the season opener together!