Volvo China Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
REMEMBER what they used to say about policemen looking younger? Well the same thing is true of golfers. You had better believe it because 14-year-old Kuang Yang is among the field for the China Volvo Open after winning the China Junior Match Play Championship.
Playing for the first time in China's premier tournament for young golfing talent and battling chest pains, he qualified for tournament thanks to a 2&1 final victory over Guangdong's Wu Dian-chao.
For Kuang it means an emotional return to his home town of Chengdu and the chance to compete against the best of the European Tour, including the likes of Chinese star Haotong Li, who is already a national hero.
"This is the first time I've played in such a high-level junior competition – it was like playing in a professional event," said Kuang. "I didn't think I'd win so I have to thank all the people who have taught me and helped me get to where I am today. I also want to thank my parents for all their support over the years and my dad for teaching me and accompanying me to the tournament this week."
A natural left hander, Kuang has been playing golf with a right-handed swing since first picking up a golf club at the age of two. Let’s repeat that - he first started swinging a golf club at the age of TWO! "My dad put on a golf instruction DVD for me to watch and since the instructor on the DVD played right handed so did I," said Kuang. "I still do everything else left handed.” He may well know what he is doing. Phil Mickelson is right-handed in everything he does other than swinging a golf club. And he hasn’t done too badly, has he?
"Chengdu is my hometown so I'll be inviting all my siblings and relatives to come see me play. This year has been a great season so I'm going to enjoy it and not look too far ahead into 2019 just yet,” said Kuang.
The Genzon Golf Club, a European Tour Destination, will be the venue for the 25th staging of the Volvo China Open when the event returns to the city in the Longgang district of China, near Hong Kong. It has previously staged the Shenzhen International on the European Tour from 2015-17.
Organised by the China Golf Association and sanctioned by the European Tour, the tournament - the flagship professional golf event of the world’s most populous nation - makes a welcome return to the Neil Haworth-designed course for the first time since Frenchman Alex Levy won there in 2014.
Sven De Smet, Chairman of the Volvo China Open Board, said: “After celebrating the 20th anniversary at the Genzon Golf Club in 2014, it feels particularly poignant to be returning to the venue once again for the 25th anniversary of the Volvo China Open.
“It seems like only yesterday when Alex Levy won his first European Tour title at the 2014 Volvo China Open and since then he has gone on to become the only player to win twice in the history of the event.
“Today the city of Shenzhen is one of vitality and innovation and I believe that with the full support of the Genzon Group the 25th anniversary of the Volvo China Open will be both successful and memorable at Genzon Golf Club.”
Allen Fei, Vice President of the Genzon Group, said: “Genzon Golf Club is committed to supporting the game of golf and the sports industry in China. It’s great to be able to bring the Volvo China Open back to the city of Shenzhen and to the Genzon Golf Club. Our members and golf fans in Shenzhen are looking forward to watching the best international and Chinese players competing here again.”
Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography
The 25th anniversary will be a major milestone for the event which, with the support of the China Golf Association, has welcomed a host of players from around the world including two-time winner Levy, former Ryder Cup player and 2011 winner Nicolas Colsaerts and reigning champion Alexander Bjork of Sweden as well as home-grown stars and former champions such as Li Haotong and Wu Ashun.
It was won in 2011 by Colsaerts, in 2012 by Branden Grace, in 2013 by Brett Rumford, in 2014 and 2017 by Levy, in 2015 by Li, in 2016 by Wu and in 2018 by Bjork. The tournament is the last in the schedule before the tour finally arrives in Europe, starting the following week with the much-anticipated British Masters, hosted by Tommy Fleetwood at Hillside Golf Club near Southport. Unsurprisingly, with the business end of the season about to really get under way, many of the leading players are giving the China Open a miss, but a strong field will still be in evidence.
Levy will relish a return to a country where he has already won twice. He is an explosive talent who is capable of producing incredible bursts of scoring. The Frenchman finished fifth in the Saudi International but hasn’t played competitively since the beginning of March. He was bitterly disappointed to miss out on the Ryder Cup in Paris and is a man who is desperately looking to kick-start his season with so many lucrative tournaments coming up.
Bernd Wiesberger missed most of last season through injury and has seen his world ranking tumble. A four-time winner on the European Tour and somebody who has contended in majors, he has missed six cuts this season as he struggles to rediscover his best form. The Austrian has a wonderful golf swing and has worked furiously over the winter but his best form continues to elude him. It is all very different from how things began for the 33-year-old. He won twice in France on the Challenge Tour in 2010 to rubber-stamp his ascent onto the European Tour, and as recently as 2015 and 2016 he finished ninth in the Race to Dubai and until his injury woes he had been regarded as one of the most consistent players on tour.
Li, aged 23, seems to have everything required to become one of the best golfers on the planet. You may remember that he finished third at The Open Championship in 2017, which is the best-ever finish in a major by a golfer from China. His victory in the 2016 China Open was his first on the European but he went one better last year when he won the Dubai Desert Classic, breaking the tournament record and beating Rory McIlroy in the process and in November last year he lost in a playoff to Justin Rose at the Turkish Airlines Open. He would be a hugely popular winner and has already shown some sparkling form in 2019. He is definitely worth a flutter.
Li Haotong. World-class
Alexander Levy. Can go low. Very low
Ashun Wu. Inscrutable
Li Haotong. Would be a hugely popular winner
Alexander Levy. Looking forward to returning to course on which he has won before
Ashun Wu. Underrated
Ross Fisher. One of the most likeable men on the European Tour
Aaron Rai. Fantastic prospect
Bernd Wiesberger. Desperate to find his best form again
Romain Wattel. Frustratingly inconsistent
Alexander Bjork. Will relish title defence
Jordan Smith. Showing signs of finding his best again
Paul Dunne. Time for another big week from the Irishman
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