Established winners join tomorrow's stars in Tianjin

4/16/2013 12:00:00 AM
Paul Casey & Dominik Bott   (Getty Images)
Paul Casey & Dominik Bott (Getty Images)

The huge current interest in Chinese golf will go up a notch during the Volvo China Open, which will be held from May 2-5 at Binhai Lake Golf Club, in Tianjin. 

No doubt inspired by the exploits of 14 year old Guan Tian-lang, who amazed the golfing world by making the cut at the Masters Tournament last week, China’s other rising stars will take on a field of top international players in the 19th edition of the Volvo China Open.

Joining defending champion Branden Grace are a whole host of European Tour champions, including former Volvo China Open winner Paul Casey, the winner of this year’s Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Stephen Gallacher, Sweden’s Alexander Norén, Spaniard Rafael Cabrera-Bello, India’s Jeev Milkha Singh and Thomas Aiken.

They will be keen to hold off the ever-growing challenge of the bright new crop of Chinese stars, such as Andy Zhang, who became the youngest competitor in US Open Championship history when he teed up at the Olympic Club last year; and 12 year old Ye Wo-cheng, who will become the youngest player to compete in a European Tour event at this year’s Volvo China Open. 

Casey, the 2005 champion, is the latest big name to confirm his participation in the tournament.

The 25 year old Englishman endured a frustrating season in 2012, having suffered an injury whilst snowboarding, and is keen to regain the form which saw him rise to as high as third place in the Official Golf World Ranking just four years ago. 

He said: “I struggled with fitness and form last year, but enjoyed playing at Binhai Lake. I’m looking forward to going back there and hopefully return to the form that saw me win the first Volvo Golf Champions in 2011. I seem to play well in Volvo’s events, so I would love to win this one and qualify for the Volvo World Match Play Championship in Bulgaria.”

Noren is another player relishing his return to Tianjin, saying: “I’m really looking forward to returning to Binhai Lake. I shot a course record 63 in the third round last year, so I know the course suits my eye and am hoping for another good week.  I finished sixth there last year, so will certainly be aiming to improve on that.”

European Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley, winner of the 2005 Volvo Masters, will be keeping a watchful eye on the players hoping to make it into his team at Gleneagles next year. 

“Obviously I want to see how the Europeans are getting on in the Volvo China Open, especially those who are rising up through the ranks; but I am also very interested in the amazing progress of the young Chinese players. I’m especially looking forward to seeing how young Ye Wo-cheng gets on, and I know that there are plenty of other youngsters who are soon going to be household names.”

Cabrera-Bello has also confirmed his participation, as have Scotland’s Richie Ramsay and South African Aiken. All have won on Tour in the past year, and with fellow champions Paul Lawrie, Thomas Björn, Álvaro Quirós and Scott Jamieson also confirmed, the field boasts strength in depth. 

The home-grown talent is represented by the two highest-ranked Chinese golfers in the World Ranking, namely Liang Wen-chong and Wu Ashun, as well as those who have ensured their berths through Qualifying. 

Liang said: “Obviously I would love to win my own national Open, but I know the challenge is getting ever greater as our home-grown talent is improving all the time.”

Indeed, the talking point of Chinese golf is the incredible array of young talent which is making its way onto the world stage, with Ye and Zhang set to be joined by Jim Liu, who is the youngest ever winner of the US Junior Amateur, and 15 year old Bai Zheng-kai, who is also in the field following his victory in the 2012 Volvo China Junior Match Play Championship.

Per Ericsson, President of Volvo Event Management, is excited at the prospect of the battle between the seasoned professionals and the new kids on the block. 

He said: “The talent emerging from the Volvo China Junior Match Play Championship and the pre-qualifying events for the Volvo China Open is getting stronger every year. We recently saw Guan Tian-lang, who made his European Tour debut at the Volvo China Open last year, put in an incredible performance in the Masters. This year, 12 year-old Ye Wo-cheng takes Guan’s record as the youngest ever on the Tour. This all demonstrates the amazing growth in Chinese golf, and there are many other stars of tomorrow in the field.”

The 19th staging of the Volvo China Open takes place at the stunning Pete Dye-designed Binhai Lake Course near Tianjin, 130km south east of Beijing. Volvo was the first western brand to engage with golf in China in 1995, and this will be the 79th European Tour event sponsored by Volvo. 

The prize fund is RMB 20 million (approximately US$3.2 million), with the champion picking up a cheque for RMB 3.3 million (approximately US$530,000). Together with the China Golf Association, Volvo is organising the event, which is co-sanctioned by The European Tour and OneAsia.

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