Volvo China Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
Following his victory at the Trophee Hasson II, mercurial French golfer Alex Levy attempts to win the Volvo China Open for the third time when the tournament gets under way at the Topwin Golf & Country Club and, like many of the players on the field, he already has an eye on the Ryder Cup. It is being played at le Gof National on the outskirts of Paris at the end of September and it goes without saying that Levy is desperate to make Thomas Bjorn’s team and have the chance to play in front of passionate and enthusiastic local fans.
Last year at the same event, the 27-year-old Frenchman won the fourth European Tour title of his career seeing off South Africa's Dylan Fritelli in a playoff. This year, he returns to the same venue looking to create a unique piece of golfing history in one of the sport's fastest growing nations.
No other golfer has won the title twice never mind three times. The tournament is being played on a course that lies in the shadow of the Great wall of China and is tri-sanctioned event between the European Tour, the Asian Tour and the China Golf Association. He is fresh off a magnificent week at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco and the one thing about Levy is that when he finds some form he tends to keep it, so he will be looking forward to getting into contention once again.
"Playing in China obviously agrees with me," said Levy. "It's a lucky country for me and not only at the Volvo China Open as I've also finished seventh, third and fourth at other tournaments here so there's no doubt that I like the place. Winning last year in China was definitely a different feeling from 2014 because your first win is always special. After you've got that first title, you always feel the same when you are under pressure – and the pressure is much easier to handle if you've already won a tournament. You just need to remember that feeling."
Levy first won here in 2014 when he shot a course record 62 on his way to a four-shot win over England's Tommy Fleetwood at Genzon Golf Club. It was the first of his four victories to date and established him as one of the best young players on the European Tour. He enjoyed a decent start to the 2018 season with three top 10 finishes in events staged in the Middle East. His performances in Dubai (4th), Oman (tied 4th) and Abu Dhabi (7th) have given him a boost as he sets his goals for the rest of the year.
"I've played well since the start of the season," he said. "I'm happy with the way I'm working, the way I'm swinging and the way I'm playing. It's a good time for me. I think it's the best I've been swinging in my career, so I just enjoy it and try to hit the best shots I can."
The most obvious target for Levy is a place on the European Team when the Ryder Cup makes its debut in Paris at Le Golf National in September. Every French professional will want to be one of the 12 players representing Europe in Paris this year and Levy certainly did himself no harm by shooting a course record 63 at Topwin Golf & Country Club when playing alongside European captain Thomas Bjorn just 12 months ago. “I would be lying if I said the Ryder Cup isn’t a target for me," added Levy. "It would be a dream to play in the Ryder Cup in France and I will be doing all I can to make the team."
The field also includes six-time winner Joost Luiten and Bernd Wiesberger, one of the most consistent players in Europe.
But there is certain to be a proper challenge from Asia, with Kiradech Aphibarnrat, of Thailand, and India’s Shubhankar Sharma taking part alongside Chinese stars Haotong Li and Ashun Wu, both former winners of this tournament. Interest in the game has been growing in China for some time but the play of Wu, Li and a host of other hugely promising young golfers has taken that interest to new levels. When the Chinese decide to focus on a sport, they tend to do it properly – just look at what has happened in snooker, with full houses and huge prize money being played for.
Victory at the 2016 China Open earned Li a two-year exemption to the European Tour, and he proved that he has the game to compete with and beat the very best in the world earlier this season when he went head to head with Rory McIlroy in the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic and came out on top. As a result, the 22-year-old edged his way into the top 50 in the world rankings.
Zhang Xiaoning, President of the China Golf Association said that he was delighted to see the tournament return to Topwin. “The previous two events ended in dramatic fashion so the Topwin course is clearly a challenge for all of the players, and only the best player on the day will win,” he said. “Li Haotong realised a dream by winning his first European Tour title at Topwin and he has gone on to prove that he is capable of winning more events on the European Tour. Everyone in China was proud of him when he won in 2016, and he then went on to represent the nation at the Rio Olympic Games with Wu Ashun, who also won the Volvo China Open in Shanghai in 2015.”
Li carries the hopes of a nation on his slim shoulders. Just imagine how his life would change if he were to go on and land a major.
It was won in 2011 by Nicolas Colsaerts, in 2012 by Branden Grace, in 2013 by Brett Rumford, in 2014 by Levy, in 2015 by Ashun Wu and in 2016 by Haotong Li.
Alexander Levy. Desperate for a win
Haotong Li. Not afraid to win on home soil
Marcus Fraser. Easy to underrate the quiet Australian
Alexander Levy. Looking to secure a Ryder Cup berth
Haotong Li. One of the best young golfers in the world
Marcus Fraser. It is about 10 years since Fraser last missed a fairway
Paul Dunne. Fabulous short game
Bernd Wiesberger. As consistent as anybody
Thomas Detry. Terrific Belgian prospect
Aaron Rai. Challenge Tour graduate with a big future
Brett Rumford. Gutsy Australian in fine form
Dean Burmester. One of the best of the current crop of South Africans
Shubhanker Sharma. Enjoying a dream season
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