Branden Grace of South Africa drives a smoking ball over the Hai River during the opening ceremony of the Volvo China Open at Tianjin, China (Richard Castka/Sportpixgolf.com) ()
Defending champion Branden Grace was joined on the banks of the Hai River, in downtown Tianjin, by record-breaking Chinese star Ye Wo-cheng and his compatriot Zhang Lian-wei as the 2013 Volvo China Open was officially opened.
The trio struck shots into the river, which connects to the Yangtze River, to mark the start of the 19th edition of China’s national Open, taking place at the nearby Binhai Lake Golf Club.
The balls exploded in mid-air to release clouds of smoke, so getting the RMB 20,000,000 (approximately US$3.2million) tournament – co-sanctioned by The European and OneAsia Tours – off to a suitably colourful start.
Grace won last year’s tournament by three strokes from the 2011 champion Nicolas Colsaerts to record his second victory in a Volvo-sponsored event in the space of three months, and the South African is determined to become the first player to successfully defend the title this week.
He said: “This is a great start to what I hope will be a great week. The golf course is in immaculate condition again, as it was last year, and it really suits my game so hopefully I can give it a good go this week. It would be great to defend my title – I didn’t come all this way to play for second place!
“Volvo tournaments have treated me really well so far, so hopefully I can keep the run going. If the wind picks up like it did this morning, then I think we’re going to be in for a very tough time. I don’t think 21 under will be winning it this year! But I normally cope pretty well with the wind, so even if it does blow I’d like to think I can still contend.”
Grace is still only 24, but he must have felt like a veteran compared to Ye, who will create European Tour history when he tees up on Thursday aged just 12 years and 242 days.
The youngster, who was accompanied to the opening ceremony by his coach David Watson, is just one of several ultra-talented teenagers competing this week.
Dou Ze-cheng, who emerged successfully through the Southern China Qualifier, is just 16 years old; while Bai Zheng-kai, who earned his place in the field courtesy of his victory in the Volvo China Junior Match Play Championship, is a year younger.
Also in attendance at the opening ceremony were Per Ericsson, President of Volvo Event Management; Wang Shuzu, Former Vice Mayor of Tianjin and Chairman of the Tianjin Golf Association; Liu Feng Shan, Director General of Tianjin Sports Bureau; and Li Hao, President of Binhai Lake Golf Club.