McIlroy putts his trust in youth

Rory reckons future is bright for Chinese game after coaching country’s brightest young stars

Five lucky Chinese youngsters enjoyed the experience of a lifetime in Shanghai on Tuesday when they were treated to golf lessons from a handful of the sport’s megastars, including four-time major champion Rory McIlroy.

The cream of the golfing world has descended on the city’s prestigious Sheshan International club where this week’s WGC-HSBC Champions is being contested.

McIlroy, Xander Schauffele, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and local hero Li Haotong all took time out from their preparations to surprise some of China’s most promising young talent, imparting their world-beating secrets of success on Sheshan’s testing par-5 18th hole.

The youngsters, ranging in age from 9 to 18, are among the brightest prospects on the CGA-HSBC China Junior Golf Program. One of the rewards for their outstanding progress was Tuesday’s unforgettable session with the pros.

After witnessing the driving skills of 12-year-old Ni Zixin from Hubei province, world No 2 McIlroy was left in little doubt the future is bright for Chinese golf.

“All the work that has been done to support golf in the country is certainly paying off, both in the growth of the fanbase and the talented young golfers we met today,” said the Northern Irishman, who has three top-five finishes in Shanghai.

“Whenever you play WGC-HSBC Champions you feel like the eyes of the entire country are on you. It’s great to compete in front of this growing and energetic audience of golf fans who are extremely knowledgeable and committed to the game.”

Defending champion Schauffele was confident he had encountered some future champs following his one-one-one session with 15-year-old Tong Yang from Guangdong province.

“WGC-HSBC Champions will always hold a special place in my heart after winning it last year in front of my family. It’s great to be back and to be able to meet some of these young Chinese stars,” said the 25-year-old world No 9.

“Thanks to the work done to encourage the game here in China, there is now a really strong pool of talented players across the country and I’m sure that some of the kids I met today will be winning global tournaments before we know it.”

Eighteen-year-old Sun Jiaze, also of Guangdong, showed world No 7 and reigning Olympic champion Rose why she might have a gold medal around her neck one day, while Beijing-based 11-year-old Chang Xihuan made compatriot Li immensely proud.

The youngest participant at the clinic, 9-year-old Xu Zilin, left her coach for the day Ian Poulter completely speechless by her remarkable ball-hitting.

In a final surprise, the elite golfers invited the kids to join them as VIPs on the red carpet at the WGC-HSBC Champions welcome dinner.

Tournament partner HSBC said the activity highlights its long-term commitment to supporting the game’s growth in China.

The CGA-HSBC China Junior Golf Program was established in 2007, and the results have been impressive.

In 2006 there were only 406 registered junior golfers in China, This year’s latest figures put that number at over 60,000, with overall junior participation pegged at around 700,000.

Over the past 12 years the program has put golf clubs in the hands of well over 100,000 children through junior tournaments, training camps and school activities, helping to inspire a thriving new community of young players.

Graduates of the program are already making waves on the global stage, including world No 59 Li and Dou Zecheng, who this year competed on the Korn Ferry Tour.

Indeed, five of the seven Chinese players in this week’s field developed their games as members of the CGA-HSBC China Junior Golf Program.

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“When the first WGC-HSBC Champions took place in 2005, I was just 9 years old,” said Li.

“Since that time it has been incredible to be part of the huge rise in interest in golf in China. I am extremely proud to see the growth of the game I love to see so many kids coming through.

“It was a privilege to connect with some of the future stars of Chinese golf today, and hopefully help set them off on their own golfing journeys.”

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