As one poster boy fell down the pecking order on Friday, another emerged as China’s Chen Zihao gave the Clearwater Bay Open and the PGA Tour China Series a shot in the arm.
If the PGA Tour bosses could choose a leading light for the new series, 20-year-old Chen is the man. He was born in Zhuhai on the southern coast of Guangdong province while he spends a lot of his time based out of San Francisco where his younger sister is a high school student and trains in Los Angeles, ticking geographical boxes in the East and West.
And to cap it all, he happens to be a rather good golfer highlighted by a bogey-free seven-under-par second round on Friday which sees Chen head into the weekend at Clearwater Bay Golf Country Club two shots clear at the top of the leaderboard at the halfway stage alongside compatriot Yuan Tian.
“I really enjoy the life of a professional player. I can fly around China, Asia and the rest of the world,” said Chen. “It is quite fun and we play for money.”
Following a successful junior and then amateur career in China, Chen became a professional as a teenager at the end of 2014 having turned down the chance of a place in the US college system.
“My dad really loves golf and would play around 10 rounds in a week when I was young. He would take me to the course and that is why I am interested,” he added.
“My plan was to go to college and the University of Oregon gave me an offer, but I turned pro and I didn’t go to college.”
He is currently seventh on the China Series order of merit with two second place finishes to his name this year, while Chen has made the cut at two of the three European Tour events he has played in 2016 before most recently finishing tied sixth at the Foshan Open on the second-tier Challenge Tour.
“This year has been good; I have always finished OK. I am just looking for a win,” said Chen, who is currently China’s sixth ranked player at 589th in the world.
“I have been putting a lot of work into my putting as I am not doing that well with my putting, so I changed my putter and changed my putting coach so I feel a lot of confidence.”
American Alex Kang claims first round lead at PGA Tour China Series Clearwater Bay Open with flawless 64
Yuan made his move to nine-under with a four-under 66, with first round leader Alex Kang from America (69) and China’s Li Jianshan (66) heading the chasing pack at seven-under overall, with England’s Michael Skelton (68) alone in fifth a further shot off the pace.
Hong Kong’s Jason Hak Shun-yat will also be back for the weekend only after having to change his travel plans after a four-over-par second round in the morning looked certain to see the 22-year-old miss the cut.
Hak is not a full member of the tour, and was invited to play this week, therefore was ready to head to China for Monday’s qualifier for next week’s Putian Open on Fujian.
But as the cut line fell down the leaderboard as the afternoon progressed, Hak’s four-over-par total was eventually enough to earn a place in the weekend by a single stroke.
“The first eight holes I performed great until the 18th as I didn’t have a great tee shot, but it didn’t clear the cliff and that’s why it turned into a plus three,” said Hak, who previously had three top 10 finishes in his last three events on the China Series.
“And then at one it was plus one and at two it was plus one. I tried to calm down and hope to stay in a good mood, but it didn’t work.”