For all the young amateurs who participated in last weekend’s Sina Cup, the path to the professional ranks no longer looks quite so intimidating.
Peng Bo, a 20-year-old sophomore at the University of Washington, embraced the two-day Ryder Cup-style tournament in Beijing as an invaluable chance to pick the brains of the top pros on the course, among which were former women’s world No 1 Feng Shanshan.
“I was really happy when I was invited by the China LPGA Tour to join this competition. It’s really a great chance for me to learn from actual professional golfers,” said Nanjing native Peng.
“In terms of the gap between me and the pros, I still can’t quite maintain my focus until the very end of a tournament like they can. I tend to become tired and distracted more easily.”
The inaugural event allowed young talents to team up with pro players to test their mettle at Beijing Shadow Creek Golf Club.
Feng captained the winning team, comprising six female pros and seven male amateurs, with men’s veteran Liang Wenchong leading the other squad, containing six male pros and seven female amateurs.
The two teams competed against each other through fourballs and foursomes sessions on Saturday, followed by 12 singles matches on Saturday.
Peng said the event was a timely test, given the disruption to his schedule caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can’t return to university this semester due to the pandemic, so I have to take courses online,” he explained. “Due to the time difference, I have to start my online classes very late, like around midnight. During the day, I need to train. It’s tough.
“I have to say the golf training environment at home is not as good as in the university. I would need to drive at least 40 minutes now to reach a golf course near my home. I’m a little bit anxious, and I can feel I’m not in peak condition.”
While the pro ranks are the ultimate destination for Peng, a recent call-up to the national reserve team has stoked his ambition to win medals for his country at the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou. Right now, though, the hope is to return to university as soon as possible.
“I’m a member of my university team and I helped the team win four championships last year. I certainly want to turn pro, and I think my experience in the university would be very important in achieving that,” Peng said.
“There are many great student players in the university who all have the potential to become future golfing stars. They all push themselves hard.”
It’s that sort of mature outlook that impressed 42-year-old Liang most about his young charges over the weekend.
“I can see their potential of becoming future stars,” said Liang, whose best result in his 10 major appearances was a tied-eighth finish at the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits.
“From my experience, the youngsters will definitely be better players than me in their future careers. They have good skills, spirit and academic performance.”
Li Jieni, a freshman at Northwestern University in Illinois, was another amateur “thrilled to have a chance to team up with the professional players” at the event－a first of its kind in China.
Due to pandemic-related travel restrictions, the 18-year-old has still yet to meet her new classmates in person. However, she’s raring to immerse herself in both the golfing and academic challenges that await her in the US.
“As the epidemic is under control in China, I have been participating all the events I can to maintain a good condition,” she said.
“With the semester started now, I’m very busy so I have to reduce my training time. I start an online course at 9 pm each Monday and Wednesday and another course at 10 pm each Tuesday and Thursday due to the time difference.
“Meanwhile, I spend three to four hours daily practicing golf, plus more time on strength training.”
Li’s dedication is a huge source of pride for her mother, Wu Zhaohui, who told China Daily that her daughter is anxious to arrive on campus to immerse herself in her golf and studies.
“My daughter told me that she must experience all these difficulties. If not, how can she cope with the bigger pressure in her future career,” said Wu. “She needs to learn how to make her own time schedule and balance the academic life and golf.
“She just occasionally played golf as a kid, so I’m surprised she’s kept it up until now. And that’s why she now has more opportunities and help from the professionals.”