Players heading to Hong Kong for next week’s PGA Tour China Series Clearwater Bay Open might not want to look too closely at the weather forecast with windy conditions expected at a course with holes that “can bare their teeth” according American contender Charlie Saxon.
Perched on cliffs surrounded by the South China Sea, Clearwater Bay Golf Country Club is a spectacular but potentially unforgiving 6,571 yard course that next week will be the first stop for the series outside of the mainland.
But with winds set to strengthen over the next week few days and persist next week due to a monsoon over southern China, the 120 player field could have their work cut out for the first two rounds on Thursday and Friday, although in some good news, temperatures are set to drop to potentially as low as 20 degrees.
“Once you get over the ‘wow’ factor, the course itself is really good as well. I can’t recall having ever played a golf course so scenic,” said Saxon, who won the last event on the circuit at September’s Pingan Bank Open in Beijing to move up to second place on the order of merit.
“It is an interesting mix of some very short ‘gettable’ holes with a number of very demanding holes. Although it was relatively calm the day we played [in September], you can tell that when the wind gets up, those short holes can bare their teeth.
“I think the main challenges of the course are its exposure to the elements. It sits perched on cliffs, so when the wind gets up there is nowhere to hide as the wind comes whipping off of the water. On a calm day the course is very scoreable, but I’ll look forward to playing it under tougher conditions.”
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Saxon is one of the main contenders for the inaugural Ұ1.2 million (HK$1.4m) tournament from November 3-6 along with current order of merit leader Dou Zecheng from China and Hong Kong’s in-form number one Jason Hak Shun-yat.
And thankfully, at this stage, there are no suggestions that conditions will be a severe as witnessed in October 2015 when the final round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Clearwater Bay Golf Country Club was cancelled due to high winds and heavy rainfall.
“I do think that Clearwater Bay suits my game well. I typically drive the ball nicely and have pretty solid wedge play into greens. Both of which are important at Clearwater Bay,” added Saxon, who has four other 10 top finishes in nine events on the tour this season having also won the qualifying event at the start of the year.
“Ultimately, as is the same for every week, I think success for me at Clearwater Bay will come down to how well I’m putting the ball.”
The winner of the PGA Tour China Series order of merit earns a guaranteed full card on the PGA Tour’s second-tier circuit, the Web.com Tour, next season.
But while he has earned Ұ549,495 with his efforts this year, the 23-year-old trails teenager Dou by over Ұ500,000 with the Clearwater Bay Open the start of a run of the final four events of the season during November.
Saxon could still earn some playing rights on the Web.com Tour next season by finishing inside the top five on the money list, although not the full card on offer for the winner.
“It would be hugely important to win the money list. The difference in status achieved through winning the money list as opposed to finishing second is night and day. It is going to take a heroic effort in order to catch Dou, but crazier things have happened,” said world number 451 Saxon. “If I don’t win the money list then I’ll be perfectly content with going to final stage of Q school and fighting for my card there.
“To be honest, I don’t think my chances are very good. Dou has been playing so well and so steady all year. If I were to catch him, I think I would need to win the last four events and even that might potentially not be enough.
“I don’t really think my goal is to catch him, but rather just to play as well as I can for the remaining four weeks and see where it all shakes out in the end.”
Saxon’s win at the Pingan Bank Open in Beijing last month was secured after he carded a flawless six-under-par final round to claim victory by one shot to move into the top 500 in the world rankings for the first time.
“If I were to catch Dou, a win a Clearwater Bay is a must. However, I think entering an event with that kind of pressure doesn’t necessarily breed good golf. I would love to catch Dou, but it’s not really my goal,” said Saxon.
“I just want to continue the form I’ve had all year for these next four events and I’ll be satisfied with wherever it puts me on the final money list.”