LIUZHOU, GUANGXI, CHINA—Chinese amateur Cheng Jin, 19, fired five birdies in his first nine holes on his way to an opening 4-under 68 and a two-shot lead after the first round of the PGA TOUR Series-China Mainland China Qualifying Tournament.
Jin lived up to high expectations by leading the 66-player field at Wolong Lake Golf Club, where he carded seven birdies against three bogeys while looking to secure one of 15 full cards available this week. The next 14 and ties will earn conditional status.
The University of Southern California sophomore remains the youngest champion and only amateur winner on the PGA TOUR Series-China, after the-then 16-year-old won the Nine Dragons Open in Zhejiang province in 2014.
Jin has since won the 2015 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Hong Kong to earn a debut at the Masters Tournament in 2016. Jin also won The Players Amateur in South Carolina in 2016 to earn an invitation to the PGA TOUR’s RBC Heritage last April.
Jin has taken a break from college to come to China and raced off to a good start by picking up shots on Nos. 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 13 and 16 – and even had trouble keeping count of his birdies.
“I think I made four birdies on the front nine,” Jin wondered. “I birdied one, then I three-putted on three so I was even, then I birdied five, six, seven and nine. Oh, so that’s five birdies right there!”
Jin said he has been inspired by compatriots Zecheng Dou and Xinjun Zhang, who both graduated from the PGA TOUR Series-China and are now rookies on the 2017-18 PGA TOUR.
However, Jin’s decision to turn pro and follow in their footsteps will have to wait until after his second season with the USC Trojans, whether or not he manages to secure status this week.
“I’m going to finish my spring season for sure, not only the NCAA Championship but the whole season, so that won’t end until June, and we will plan after that.”
China’s Basiteng Fang, who turned pro last September, finished the first round in second place, with a 70 that featured five birdies and three bogeys. The 24-year-old is in good form as he hopes to play on the PGA TOUR Series-China for the first time.
“My game was just normal in this round. My short game was good, and I putted well,” Fang said.
“I just turned pro last September and played a couple of pro tournaments. I haven’t played PGA TOUR Series-China before, only tried the Monday Q-school in Henan, but didn’t make it. I hope I can make the top 15 and play the tournaments this year.”
The 1.98-meter Zihong Zhang fired an eagle on the par-4 sixth on his way to a 71 and solo third, although the 18-year-old amateur said he wasn’t used to the windy conditions.
“I hope the wind can have a little bit of mercy on me,” Zhang said. “I’m not used to hitting balls into the wind, so if tomorrow is similar then I will just have to do the same as I did today. If the wind is better, I think I can score better.”
The top-15 finishers over the 6,557-meter Wolong Lake course will earn full cards on the 2018 PGA TOUR Series-China, while the next 14 finishers will be conditionally exempt. The top five on this year’s Order of Merit will earn status on the 2019 Web.com Tour, the path to the PGA TOUR.
After a one-year hiatus, PGA TOUR Series-China will resume with a 14-tournament schedule that starts with the Chengdu Championship at Luxehills International Country Club (March 15-18) and the Chongqing Championship at Poly Golf Club (March 22-25). Every tournament will offer RMB 1.5 million, a 25-percent increase over purse levels from 2016.
The PGA TOUR established PGA TOUR Series-China in 2014 as its third international developmental tour, following in the footsteps of PGA TOUR Latinoamerica and the Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada. Since its inception, PGA TOUR Series-China players have received Official World Golf Ranking points for top finishes at official tournaments.