After 36 holes of the Shankai Classic there were reasons to be cheerful for Chinese golf fans everywhere as native professionals and amateurs alike showed what they are made of at Chongqing Poly Golf Club.
Hu Mu led the home charge through two rounds, carding scores of 70 and 68 to enter the final day in a tie for fifth some four shots adrift of the leader Antonio Hortal at ten under par, during a week in which 11 players from China survived the 18 hole cut after low visibility disrupted the first two days.
One of the aims of the European Challenge Tour has always been to use its events to encourage the development of golf wherever it visits, and thanks to its relationship with the China Golf Association in staging tournaments such as this, that is something which is sure to continue.
It remains to be seen how Hu will perform in the final round, but the 25 year old was delighted to be in contention for a maiden title on the second tier, as he looks to build on the talent that had previously seen him heralded as a word beater when still in his teens.
“My chipping and putting were great in round two, the same as the first day when I had 26 putts. However my driver was quite off, and I hit one in the water, one in the woods and one rolled all the way to the fairway of another hole nearby.
“I made too many mistakes from the tee, and it has been like this the rest this year, but I made an aggressive tee shot at the sixth with my driver, which left me only 230 yards to the pin. I used my hybrid from there and managed to hit it to just a few feet to set up an eagle.
“The course was easier than the previous couple of days, the visibility was much better so you could see the lines clearly. If I can make fewer mistakes and keep my putting as I have been doing so far, I still have a chance to win. I have been feeling great over the first few days though, so I don’t want to change anything.”
Victory on Sunday would prove a huge fillip for not only Hu’s career, but the plight of Chinese golf in general, and would act as proof to his younger compatriots of what can be achieved by home grown players on the world stage.
One such golfer might be amateur star Chen Zi-hao, who heads into the final round in a tie for 16th place at four under par, and while a tournament victory might prove a step too far on the final day, a solid performance should give the 18 year old great heart for the future, as he decides how to best go about achieving his lofty career ambitions.
“I am quite happy with my performance, and while my putting wasn’t as good as I had hoped, the rest was almost perfect. My irons are really good, I just missed too many birdie chances, but lately I have been struggling with my putting.
“The weather was quite nice so the course was much easier and you could see some low scores out there. I am feeling pretty good now, and for the final round, so I will be more aggressive and hopefully I can get more birdies to put myself in contention.
“I turned 18 last month and am in the process of making a decision whether to go to university in America or turn professional. Personally, I might just turn pro and focus on playing the PGA Tour China first, while at the same time trying out the qualify schools for other Tours and hopefully I can get the chance to play more world-class tournaments.
“I will take everything step by step, and if I am lucky, one day I will become a Major Champion.”
Alongside Chen heading into the final round was Zhou Guo-wu, who was the second highest ranked Chinese professional in the field heading into Sunday.
Rongjian Tang was another member of the unpaid ranks to have made the 18 hole cut alongside Chen in Chongqing, and he is benefitting from the unique approach of Swiss coach Stephane Barras, who is working with a number of players in China using his CaddiePlayer system.
Also working with European Tour professionals such as Emiliano Grillo, Barras – who hails from Crans Montana, home of the Omega European Masters – is here this week scouting talent for the promoter Shankai in order to ensure golf in China continues to progress at pace.