The PGA TOUR China Series began in 2014, the third of the PGA TOUR’s international developmental tours, following in the footsteps of the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada and PGA TOUR Latinoamerica.
Since the Series’ inception, PGA TOUR China has proven to be a critical piece in players’ professional development, providing players from China a place to play in PGA TOUR-sanctioned tournaments against strong international players from throughout the world. Perhaps most importantly, PGA TOUR China has also provided players a path to get to the PGA TOUR via the Web.com Tour.
So when then-PGA TOUR Commissioner Tim Finchem announced the formation of PGA TOUR China at the 2013 World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions, he tied the growth of the sport in China to opportunities afforded local players.
“We know from looking at the history of golf, that the growth of the game is driven first and foremost by the development of elite players who perform at a unique level. Having the opportunity to grow elite players—thus accelerating the development of elite players in China—will also translate into the acceleration of the growth of the game in China, which is in all of our interests.”
China’s Dou Zecheng has done exactly what Finchem described, becoming an elite player by first playing PGA TOUR China, moving onto and winning on the 2017 Web.com Tour and securing membership to the PGA TOUR. In doing that, he became the first player from China to do so.
From the beginning of PGA TOUR China, the fields for all events have primarily been comprised of 50 percent players from China and 50 percent from the rest of the world. Dou was one of those players from China with big dreams, and it didn’t take long for success to find Dou. In the second tournament in the Series’ history, the 2014 Buick Open in Guangzhou, Dou, then an amateur, finished second. Three tournaments later, a player from China was winning. Xinjun Zhang captured the fifth tournament of the year, the Beijing Open, and two players from China won four of the final seven tournaments in that inaugural season. Li Haotong won in Henan, Sanya and Guangzhou, while amateur Jin Cheng prevailed in the Nine Dragons Open outside Shanghai. Li’s dominance was significant because he finished No. 1 on the Order of Merit and earned status on the 2015 Web.com Tour. Li played well, recording one top-10 finish and retaining his Web.com Tour membership for 2016.
PGA TOUR China’s second season meant more success by players playing in their homeland, with Zhang winning his second title. Chao Haimeng, Zhang Huilin and He Zeyu winning the three tournaments after Zhang’s triumph. That level of accomplishment carried over to 2016 when Dou won the first two tournaments of the season—giving players from China six consecutive titles.
Dou went on to win two additional times in 2016 to finish atop the Order of Merit and moved to the 2017 Web.com Tour. In only his second start on that Tour, Dou finished third in the Bahamas and then added the biggest title of his young career when he won the Digital Ally Open in Kansas City in late-July. The victory assured Dou his 2017-18 PGA TOUR card that will make him the first player from China to hold PGA TOUR membership. Zhang Xinjun, the No. 5 finisher on the 2016 Order of Merit, has a pair of Web.com Tour runner-up finishes in 2017 and has earned enough money that it is likely he will move on to the PGA TOUR, as well.
In all, seven players from China have won a total of 14 tournaments, a player from China winning 38 percent of the tournaments.
Li also represented China at both the Summer Olympics in Brazil in 2016 and at the World Cup of Golf in Australia. The duo of Li and Wu Ashun tied for second at the World Cup, behind Denmark. And Li is currently locked in a battle to qualify for the international Presidents Cup team, something no player from China has ever done.
With all the success, the future of golf in China is incredibly bright.