An optimistic but equally frustrated Jason Hak Shun-yat battled with the pressures of being the poster boy of this week’s PGA Tour Clearwater Bay Open on Thursday, but showed he may deserve that billing now and in the future with hard-fought first round.
Watch: leading golfers from Hong Kong and the mainland in action at Clearwater Bay Golf Country Club
With three top 10 finishes in as many starts and the circuit making its first stop outside of mainland China this week at Clearwater Bay Golf Country Club, 22-year-old Hak has been in high demand while his face features on numerous bus and poster adverts at the venue and across the city.
Additional media and promotional events have limited Hak’s practice time this week, which contributed in some way to a level par opening round and already a six-shot deficit to 18-hole leader Alex Kang.
But having shipped a triple bogey seven in the middle of his back nine, it turned out to be a solid day’s work for Hak, who will look to take the momentum of a final hole birdie into Friday’s second round.
“Being the home star brings some pressure. Your subconscious wants to play better and you don’t want to disappoint anybody, but if you don’t disappoint yourself and do what you are here for I am sure the results will come,” said Hak, who has also been battling with an eye compliant for the last month before also suffering a minor hand injury on the eve of the event.
“I just need to enjoy it on the golf course and relax. I want to practice, but I didn’t want to do too much.”
Hak’s opening round had been progressing nicely with two birdies in 11 holes, which included a 24 foot conversion at the 11th, until a wayward tee shot and a ball plugged in a fairway bunker on the 13th erased his earlier hard work.
Playing partner and order of merit leader Dou Zecheng from China also found it tough and settled for a three-over-par first round 73 which included an eight at the signature par four third.
Watch: Jason Hak birdie the 18th
But Hak was at least able to scramble back to level par with an eight foot putt for birdie on the 18th – a hole that American Charlie Saxon earlier shipped a triple bogey en route to his own level par opening round.
Both four-time winner Dou and last month’s Pingan Bank Open champion Saxon have also been heavily publicised ahead of this week’s Ұ1million (HK$1.4m) event and that is all part of the learning curve with the players ultimately looking to progress to the even brighter lights of the American PGA Tour.
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“There are a few things going on. I had a busy Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in the week with a lot of media and golf and I didn’t get to practice that much,” added Hak, who is now based in Florida having initially left Hong Kong for Beijing aged seven.
“But when you get to the PGA Tour you need to manage things well. I am doing that and you just need to learn and keep moving forward.
Watch: Charlie Saxon
“Every day is different. You can hit terrible tomorrow and maybe score better, so I am not really upset or I am ready. I feel pretty good about my game and there is still a couple of rounds and a lot of holes. I just need to prepare myself both physically and mentally to challenge the leaderboard.”
American Alex Kang heads that leaderboard after a bogey-free six-under-par 64, with Chinese pair Wu Hongfu and Yuan Tian leading the chasing pack a shot off the pace.
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This season’s Cadillac Championship winner Kang, who is currently fourth on the order of merit, never looked back after claiming a birdie at his first hole of the day and posted five further gains during a flawless 18 holes at Clearwater Bay Golf Country Club.
Wu also carded six birdies but a solitary bogey left him a shot off the pace alongside compatriot Yuan who eagled the par five fifth en route to his 66.
“I putted really well today. I rolled in a lot of 10-15 footers, I didn’t really make any long ones, but I also didn’t miss anything inside of 10 feet,” said Kang.
“I think to play well out here you have to putt well because the pin positions are a little tough and it will be hard get it close. I did well today and hopefully I do the same for the rest of the week.”
Early pacesetters Michael Skleton from England, China’s Zhang Xinjun and South Korea’s Kim Tae-woo were later joined at four-under by Australia’s David McKenzie and Korean pair Lee Jung-hwan and Lee Ho-soo.