China Tour players send message to Chengdu victims
Omega China Tour players voiced their concern for the victims of Monday’s tragic earthquake in Sichuan province ahead of this week’s Shanghai Championship, which tees off on Thursday.
Li Chao, the event’s defending champion, showed impressive composure to speak on behalf of the Tour’s players at a press conference.
"On behalf of all the players, I’d like to express my concern and send my sympathies to all those affected by the earthquake," said the 28-year-old, the Tour’s most successful player with eight victories and two Omega Order of Merit titles.
"On Monday, a friend sent me a message about the earthquake and I then saw it all on the news when I got back to the hotel. I was so worried about all the people and the suffering. So many people have lost family and friends. I just want to send our best and hope they can all get through this terrible time."
Chengdu-born Yang Taoli was set to make headlines this week as only the second woman, and first female professional, to compete on the Tour. Instead, her mind is with her family and friends in her native Sichuan province.
The 24-year-old lives with her parents and elder sister’s family in Du Jiang Yan, a small city northwest of Chengdu and close to the earthquake’s epicentre. Yang’s family have been living in a tent since their family home was damaged in the earthquake.
"I’m very sad about this as my home is close to many damaged areas," she said. "Many schools in the town have been destroyed, so many children have died. When I finish the tournament, I will go straight home to see my family."
Chinese Taipei star Lu Wen-teh, who became the Tour’s first non-mainland winner at last month’s Kunming Championship, added his voice to those expressing their concern.
"Chinese Taipei has also suffered many bad earthquakes in the past," said the 45-year-old. "I’m very sad for the people affected and the damage done."
Li and Lu are the favourites at this week’s event, which is being held at the Orient (Shanghai) Golf and Country Club.
Li is looking to regain his winning touch on the Tour after missing the cut in last month’s Kunming Championship. It was the first time he had even finished outside the top 10 on the Tour, having played in every one of the 21 events since its inception in 2005.
After Kunming, Li bounced back to become the only Chinese player to make the cut in all three Asian Tour events in China and is now at the tail-end of a hectic schedule of nine tournaments in 11 weeks.
"I’m happy I made the cut in the Asian Tour events, but that chapter is now closed and it’s time to focus on this week in Shanghai and next week in Nanjing," said the six-foot four-inch former football goalkeeper.
"Physically, I feel good although I need to start looking after my body when I play so much golf. This is the most intense period of tournaments I’ve ever had, as there have been so many tournaments in China recently. As for this week, Lu Laoshi (teacher Lu) is a big star and a very competitive player, so we will all just do our best."
Lu, who has earned over US$1 million on the Asian Tour since 1995, is looking for back-to-back titles in only his third appearance on the Omega China Tour.
"I just came here to learn," said the modest Lu, who won the Macau Open and Mercuries Taiwan Masters on last year’s Asian Tour. "Li Chao is a very good player and there are many others, so I’ll just do my best. The course is beautiful and I played 18 holes yesterday. The main challenge is when the wind gets up and the many water hazards."
Other contenders include Hsu Mong-nan, joint runner-up in the season-opening Guangzhou Championship and the second invite from Chinese Taipei, Asian Tour players Shang Lei and Alex Wu Ashun, as well as Fan Zhipeng, who impressed in last week’s Pine Valley Beijing Open, where he was the leading Chinese player on the second and third day.
However, many eyes will be on Yang as she follows in the footsteps of amateur Dong Caihong, the first woman to compete on the Tour when she played in last year’s Qingdao Championship.
The five-foot four-inch Yang, who turned pro at the beginning of last year, is attached to the Orient Golf Group and has played the Shanghai layout more than 10 times.
"My main benefit this week is that I’m familiar with the course," said Yang, who will play in July’s high-profile Evian Masters in France, part of the Ladies European Tour. "The layout is quite straightforward. My main concern is distance off the tee, so I will have to use my driver a lot."
Yang is a perennial runner-up in golf, a game she first took up as a 17-year-old waitress at Sichuan Qingcheng Golf Club. In 2005 and 2006 she had six runner-up finishes in the Citicforward China Amateur Tour, and after turning pro on January 1, 2007, she finished runner-up four times in last year’s five-leg Orient Masters series in China.
Following Monday’s earthquake in Sichuan province, the China Golf Association and relevant parties involved with the Omega China Tour have been in ongoing discussions as to the status of the Luxehills Golf Championship in Chengdu, scheduled to be held from June 5-8. Meanwhile, the Luxehills International Country Club, the event’s host venue, has postponed its Grand Opening, which was scheduled for May 18.
May 14, 2008