Yang Taoli to debut amid great sadness
Chengdu-born Yang Taoli will become only the second woman, and the first female professional, to compete on the Omega China Tour when she tees off in this week’s Shanghai Championship, which starts on Thursday at the Orient (Shanghai) Golf and Country Club.
However, in light of Monday’s tragic earthquake in her native Sichuan province, the 24-year-old has had a sad and stressful lead-up to the tournament.
“I was calling my family all yesterday afternoon and evening, but I only got through to my father on his mobile phone at midnight,” Yang said.
“My dad told me that the whole family is now living in a tent because the house has cracks in it. It isn’t safe to stay in our house right now.”
Yang 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.
“I left home last week to play in this tournament,” she said. “If I had decided to fly on Monday evening, I would still have been in Chengdu when the earthquake happened.”
As if she didn’t have enough on her mind, Yang will compete in Shanghai against the likes of Li Chao, the defending champion and two-time Omega Order of Merit winner, and Chinese Taipei star Lu Wen-teh, who became the Tour’s first non-mainland winner at last month’s Kunming Championship.
Further strengthening the field are Asian Tour players Shang Lei and Alex Wu Ashun, as well as Hsu Mong-nan, joint runner-up in the season-opening Guangzhou Championship and the second invite from Chinese Taipei.
Yang, who only turned pro at the beginning of last year, is competing in the RMB800,000 event at the invitation of the host venue, having signed with the Orient Golf Group last October.
She follows in the pioneering footsteps of amateur Dong Caihong, who was the first woman to compete on the Omega China Tour when she played in last year’s Qingdao Championship, missing weekend play after rounds of 78 and 83.
“My ultimate aim is to make the cut, as I'm familiar with the course,” said Yang, who said she has played the layout more than 10 times, once scoring 72 off the blue tees.
“I guess my only worry is my distance off the tee and the fact it’s very windy this week, which will make things more challenging.”
However, Yang seems unfazed by the challenge of competing on the fast-growing men’s circuit, which this year features 10 events each with a purse of RMB800,000.
“I’m not worried by the fact it’s a men’s event. I just see it as an opportunity to play with golfers of a higher level. I’ve competed in several professional women’s events, but like most women I can’t match men for distance, although I’m pretty consistent and long with my driver, at least for a woman!
“I also have less experience than many of the men, but otherwise I’d say my game is equal to an average Tour player. It will all prove helpful as I prepare for the Evian Masters in July,” said Yang, referring to the high-profile Ladies European Tour event in France.
Yang is currently attached to Orient (Xiamen), which in March hosted the Omega China Tour’s Dell Championship won by Li Chao.
As such, the busy pro currently splits her time between Du Jiang Yan, Xiamen and her growing schedule of tournaments, which includes the Orient Masters series of events in China.
Last year, she finished runner-up four times in the five-leg series, taking second in Beijing, Qingdao, Shanghai and Wenzhou before finishing in the top-20 in the China Ladies Open, won by Korean star Shin Jiyai in a field dominated by her compatriots.
Yang has competed overseas in Korea and Chinese Taipei, as well as twice on the Ladies Asian Golf Tour, missing the cut in the Thailand Ladies Open in February and last year’s Asia Miles Binhai Ladies Open in Shanghai.
So far, golf has provided an interesting journey for the five-foot four-inch Yang, who only took up the game when she was 17 after starting to hit some balls on the driving range while working as a waitress at the Sichuan Qingcheng Golf Club, near Du Jiang Yan.
The following year she was one of three ladies chosen by the club to form a team. As an amateur, she had six runner-up finishes in the Citicforward China Amateur Tour in 2005 and 2006 before turning pro on New Year’s Day in 2007.
May 13, 2008