After shaping up during shutdown, Chinese star psyched for return
A bulked-up Li Haotong is anxious to see how his game will stand up against the stars of the PGA Tour when he makes his return to competitive golf at this week’s Memorial Tournament followed by the World Golf Championships-FedEx St. Jude Invitational later this month.
It has been nearly four months since the 24-year-old Chinese star last struck an official golf shot before the coronavirus pandemic forced all major tours around the world to suspend competition.
During the break, he focused on getting physically stronger and sharper on the course and hopes to reap the fruits of his labor over the next few weeks.
“I’m very excited and can’t wait to get back to the game. It’s been more than three months since I left the tour and I really miss everything on the course,” said Li, who is exempted into Muirfield Village this week and TPC Southwind later this month by virtue of being a member of last year’s Presidents Cup International Team.
“To be honest, I was imagining it’s me on the tee or on the green while watching the video and highlights on TV(when the PGA Tour resumed play).”
Li, who was the 2014 order of merit champion on the PGA Tour Series-China and is a two-time winner on the European Tour, last season placed tied-37th at the Memorial and tied-20th at the WGC event.
A second appearance at the Memorial, which is hosted by golf legend Jack Nicklaus, is a mouthwatering prospect as 15-time major champion Tiger Woods will also be making his first competitive appearance since the break.
“The course is very good for me and it’s a big honor to play in Jack Nicklaus’ tournament,” said Li. “Jack is one of the legends of golf and I’ve been playing on a course designed by him (Lake Malaren, Shanghai) since my childhood.
“I am looking forward to a better result in this event. The lineup will be strong and challenging in the World Golf Championships event but personally there is not much difference for me. I just hope to keep myself in a good state (of mind).”
Li expects some competitive rust but believes the long hours of physical work he has put in at the gym will pay off.
“I think it’s about getting back into the pace of the game and putting myself in the best condition to play against the top golfers. Obviously, it may take some time but I’m confident in myself,” he said.
“I always pay attention to physical training. Both my swing speed and distance have increased during the past couple of months.
“It looks like every player has improved and I am really surprised by them, especially Bryson (DeChambeau). It’s unbelievable. Fitness is the basis of golf so we cannot fall behind in this regard.
“It’s always been one of my dreams to have a place on the PGA Tour and that’s still what I’m thinking about at present. There is, of course, a difficulty under the unusual circumstances this year. However, I still have confidence in myself and I’m excited about the next few weeks,” added Li, who having once scaled the heights of the world’s top 50 has now dropped down to No 101 in the rankings.
“I hope I can keep healthy first of all and be able to find my pace back and improve my world ranking,” he added. “Of course, it would be great if I can win a championship.”
Meanwhile, fans had initially been set to be allowed at this week’s Memorial Tournament in Ohio but that plan was scrapped after a sharp escalation in coronavirus cases.
With the United States battling a resurgence in infections, tournament organizers said in a coordinated announcement on Monday that the remaining events will not host spectators due to concerns over COVID-19.
All five tournaments held since the PGA Tour returned from its coronavirus shutdown in June have taken place without spectators.
Monday’s announcement means there will be no spectators at the climax of the season, which concludes with the FedEx Cup Playoff series’ Tour Championship, due to be held from Sept 4-7 in Atlanta, Georgia.
The two other legs of the FedEx Cup playoffs, the Aug 20-23 Northern Trust at TPC Boston, and the BMW Championship at Olympia Fields, Illinois, will also be affected.
Fans will also not be in attendance at next week’s 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota, and the World Golf Championship-FedEx St. Jude Invitational in Memphis, Tennessee, from July 30-Aug 2.
The PGA of America had already announced that no spectators will be allowed at the PGA Championship at Harding Park, San Francisco, from Aug 6-9.