For most 12 year olds, the chance to compete against some of the world’s best golfers comes only via the virtual world of their games console – but not China’s Ye Wo-cheng.
Ye will become The European Tour’s youngest competitor when he tees up in tomorrow’s Volvo China Open aged just 12 years and 242 days; shaving nearly a full year off the previous record held by Guan Tian-lang from last year’s event.
Ye would undoubtedly like to enjoy the follow-up success his compatriot has enjoyed since breaking the record – Guan became the youngest player in Masters Tournament history last month and then broke another record by making the cut.
“I’m very happy to be the youngest player on The European Tour, and also a little nervous at the same time,” said Ye, who came through the Western China qualifier. “But I’m looking forward to the tournament, and hopefully I can play well.
“My main aim this week is just to go out there and enjoy it; I don’t really want to think too much about the result.
“It’s very helpful that I have my coach here this week, he’s taught me a lot about how to play in the wind. This course is very long, and it will play even longer in the wind, but it gives me confidence to know that he is here to give me tips and advice on how to cope in the conditions. I’m excited about getting started tomorrow.”
Ye is not the only remarkably young player in the field at Binhai Lake this week - 15 year old Bai Zheng-kai earned a start with his Volvo China Junior Match Play Championship victory and 16 year old Dou Ze-cheng came through qualifying.
Plenty of players in the field are older than the combined age of the three Chinese youngsters, including Ryder Cup star Paul Lawrie, but Dou insists the trio will not be overwhelmed by the occasion.
“We’re always all helping each other out, and turning to one another for advice,” he said. “I think the main reason for the success of young Chinese players is that we pick up the game at an early age, and we practice really hard. Hopefully that practice can pay off this week.
“I always wear my lucky hat out on the course, because it helps me shoot lower. I played really well the first time I wore it, and have worn it ever since. Hopefully the luck continues this week.”
Bai has set his sights on being around for the weekend and said: “Hopefully I can make the cut this week – that is my goal. I’ve played many practice rounds on the course, and it’s very difficult. Some holes against the wind will be very tough to make par on, but all I can do is try my best.”
Defending champion Branden Grace admitted in his pre-tournament press conference that he was curious to see how a 12 year old fares in a field containing no fewer than eight past and present Ryder Cup stars.
“It’s amazing,” said the South African. “I only started playing the game at 11, so I wouldn’t like to think what handicap I was playing off when I was 12!
“I spoke to his coach yesterday, and he told me he’s been winning almost every amateur tournament he’s played in this year. So I’ll be looking out for his results here this week, as I’m sure will most other people. It’s a great story, great for him and for the game of golf in general.”