6th November 2018 | Sunshine Tour
Li can take big step on Chinese golf’s ‘Long March’
He might not be Mao Zedong leading a new ‘Long March’, but Li Haotong is almost certainly the man who can make China a global golf power – and he gets another chance to show what he can do in this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge.
Li, who finished second to world number one Justin Rose in last week’s Turkish Airlines Open last week after a disappointing final-round 71, is currently ranked 42nd in the world. He reached a career-high of 32 on the Official World Golf Ranking in January after winning the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in a thrilling duel with Rory McIlroy.
Li three-putted the first play-off hole in Turkey to hand Rose the win, but he’s not down on himself for the slip-up. “I took a lot of positive stuff from there,” he said. “I’m proud of myself, the way I finished and just a little bit of mistake Sunday happened, but I don’t mind. I’m not worried about my game. My game is in good shape now. Looking forward to the next two weeks.”
That approach and some outstanding rounds are what catch the eye and make Li the player most likely to be the one who turns China’s somewhat detached attitude towards professional golf around.
In the third round in Turkey, he fired a sizzling eight-under-par 63 to take the 54-hole lead, and there was an eight-under 64 in the third round when he won in Dubai which got him into a position to take on and defeat McIlroy.
His last four tournaments have produced three top-10s and a share of 11th, so he’s clearly on a roll and ready to challenge for his second title of the season. “It is very, very good year for me so far,” he said. I just have to stay positive, and just need to play my best.”
And his fourth-place finish behind Branden Grace in the Sun City tournament last year shows he can produce his best around Gary Player Country Club. He produced the best final round of the day with his eight-under 64.
“I didn’t really miss a shot on Sunday,” he said. I was a little bit disappointed with the last putt which was like six-foot for a course record. Anyway, it’s a good finish there, so it’s a lot of positives I’m taking into this week and hopefully I’ll have a good week here.”
He will have to adapt to South African conditions, but as last year’s finish showed, it shouldn’t be a problem. “Things are different here, especially the grass. With kikuyu, I think you’re going to have a lot of flyers if you’re in the semi-rough, and you have to hit really solid tee shots. Obviously you have to putt well. Hopefully I can play well.”
We know he can do that.