PHOTOS: New generation of Chinese players hoping to star at China Suzhou Taihu Open
The new generation of female golfers from China are hoping to grab the headlines at this week’s Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open.
The 54-hole stroke play tournament, which is tri-sanctioned by the Ladies European Tour, Ladies Asian Golf Tour and China Golf Association, gets under way at Suzhou Taihu International Golf Club from Friday.
There will be eight of China’s 10 female national team members competing, including five amateurs and three professionals - and only two of that group is over the age of 18.
Wang Xin Ying, 13, is the youngest in the field of competitors and one of the best amateur golfers in China. She finished third on her debut on the LET Access Series at the Women’s Bank Open in Finland in early August.
Cai Danting, 13, is another promising teenager and playing in the Suzhou Taihu Open for the first time. She recently won the Volvo Junior Championship in Guangzhou, has an average driving distance of 220 yards and recently had two holes-in-one in a week.
Shi Yuting, 13, is the 2012 China Amateur Champion and finished second in a professional CLPGA event a fortnight ago: the Chongqing Challenge. She was a member of the China junior team that beat the USA in their own backyard at the USA-China Youth Golf match by 9 to 7 at the CordeValle Golf Resort in California in August.
When asked who amongst the group can win the tournament, Zhang Weiwei, 14, appeared the most confident. The slim teen hits her driver an average of 240 yards and finished 12th in the World Amateur Championships in Turkey a fortnight ago. She also played in this tournament in 2011.
Of the five amateurs, Yan Jing, 16, is the last but by no means least. She was the leading amateur at the 2011 Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open, ending in joint 18th and also at the World Ladies Championship in March, where she tied for 21st on level par, two strokes clear of World No.1 Lydia Ko.
The 2010 Asian Games silver medallist breezed through qualifying to tee off in the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Liverpool in September, becoming the youngest Chinese female golfer to ever play in a major tournament. Yan was one of only four amateurs to make the cut and shot a stunning second round score of 69.
Lin Xiyu, 16, is the youngest professional golfer on the CLPGA but has the experience of a veteran. This will be her third appearance in the Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open, where she missed the cut in 2010 and tied for 51st in 2011.
Lin displayed her talents with a tie for ninth at the Sanya Ladies Open in 2010 and shared fifth place in the same tournament last year on her professional debut, so will be one to watch next week at Yalong Bay Golf Club in Hainan. She is also full of confidence after two wins on the CLPGA, at the Binhai Fortune Plaza Tianjin Challenge Cup and Srixon Ladies Open last week.
Wang Xin, 18, turned professional in 2011. Her best finish on the CLPGA was a tie for 13th at the Sanya Ladies Open in 2010. She won the Hope Amateur Tournament Championship, Beijing leg, the same year.
Meanwhile, at 21, Zhang Yu Yang is the elder stateswoman in the group. She is enjoying her rookie season on the Ladies European Tour, where she became the first member from China after successfully passing through Tour School in December.
Zhang has posted two top-30 finishes from nine tournaments this season, including a season-best tie for 26th in Germany. Ranked 117th on the order of merit, she is likely to return to Tour School for 2013, although she will be in good company, joined by compatriots Lin Xiyu, Jia Yun Li, Xiao Ying Shi and Wang Xin, who will also make the trip to Marrakech, Morocco, this December.
The only two female national team members not participating in the Suzhou Taihu Open this week are Feng Simin, who trains in the USA and Shi Xiaoying. Simin, 17, was the first amateur to win on the CLPGA tour, at the Wuhan Challenge this August. Shi Xiaoying, 30, turned pro in 2010 and was a strong amateur with a third place finish at the Citic Forward Amateur Tour in 2008, but has not had the best results since turning pro.
This is a watershed moment for Chinese golf. Earlier this year 14-year-old Chinese golfer Andy Zhang became the youngest player ever to qualify for a major when he took part in the US Open, while World No 4 Feng Shanshan became the first player from mainland China to win a major when she claimed the LPGA Championship.
The 2012 Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open marks the fifth year that the Ladies European Tour has travelled to China and it is no coincidence that the skill level of the Chinese golfers is improving every season.
In addition to bringing some of the biggest names in women’s golf to China, such as Annika Sorenstam and Yani Tseng, who won the event in 2008 and 2010 respectively, the Suzhou Taihu Ladies Open plays a key role in golf’s development. The tournament provides first class competition on a quality golf course, fostering excellent international relations and friendship amongst the 114 competitors from 20 different countries throughout the world.