Two weeks ago, schoolboy Ye Wo-cheng rewrote the record books when he finished in third place at Western Qualifying for this year’s Volvo China Open.
At the tender age of just 12, he will break the record for being the youngest competitor in a European Tour event when he tees up in this year’s Volvo China Open, overtaking Guan Tian-lang, who was 13 years and 173 days when he teed up in the tournament in 2012.
The man behind this amazing prodigy is coach David Watson, who has a strong competitive track record himself, having won golf tournaments at every level. As an amateur, he featured in the England Squad alongside future stars such as Lee Westwood and Justin Rose and, after turning pro, won the Australasian PGA Development Tour Money List in 1999.
Over the past decade, he has been at the forefront of Chinese golf development as a teacher and instructor to many juniors.
Watson has been working with Ye since he was just nine. Back then, “he was a thin, nervous lad, who didn’t know a great deal about the overall game,” according to Watson.
“At first it was just a couple of hours a week, but as he continued to improve, in 2011 I talked to his parents about his raw talent and great potential, and we agreed to work together full-time.”
According to Watson, Ye’s strength from a coaching perspective is his great ability to listen and learn.
He said: “I set him all manner of tasks to work on, and it is rare to find a child so young who has the focus to respond. He surprises me almost every day.”
Their plan is that Ye should aim to win every junior event he plays in by ten shots.
The youngster is already hitting his drives an average of 250-260 yards, and his distance over the past three months has greatly improved as a result of a strict fitness programme which sees him in the gym at 6am some days.
“I believe his potential is limitless,” said Watson, “and his ability to listen and respond is way above the norm.
“At the moment, I don’t believe that Ye has too many close rivals of the same age. He often wins in higher age groups. But at the same time, I know it is dangerous to speculate and we realise that he is just a 12 year old boy.”
Since his young charge qualified, life have become hectic for Watson and even more so for Ye himself. They will soon visit Tianjin Binhai Lake, host venue for the 19th edition of the Volvo China Open, to do some homework, formulate a plan, and see which areas of Ye’s game need improving.
“We are really going to study the approach shots and map out the greens so that we can work together on recreating these when we get home to Dongguan,” his coach said.
Watson believes that along with Guan Tian-lang, who is playing in the Masters Tournament this year, Ye is likely to spearhead the next generation of Chinese golfers.
He has been impressed by the strength in depth of young Chinese talent, saying: “The China Golf Association does a great job, which filters right down to the provincial associations who work tirelessly to host events and provide coaching programmes. It’s amazing what China has achieved in such a short time, you can only admire what they are trying to do with sport in general, and golf is no different.”
Looking ahead to Ye’s participation in the Volvo China Open, which takes place from May 2-5 at Tianjin Binhai Lake Golf Club, in north east China’s Tanggu District, Watson is confident his model pupil will give a good account of himself.
He said: “It’s all well and good to qualify for the event, but now we have the opportunity to do even better. He needs to put that to one side and take each shot as it comes. Just hit the fairways, hit the greens, make some putts and then we’ll see what we need to work on. I tell him never to get ahead of himself. It will be tough for him, but we will be ready.”
The Volvo China Open, won last year by South African Branden Grace, will again be co-sanctioned by The European Tour and OneAsia.