CHENGDU, SICHUAN, CHINA—American Charlie Saxon is a pre-tournament favourite at this week’s RMB 1.5 million Chengdu Championship at Luxehills International Country Club, but admits his main focus is to eventually win the 2018 PGA TOUR Series-China Order of Merit.
Saxon, 24, finished second to current PGA TOUR player Zecheng Dou of China on the money list in 2016, the third season of a Tour that resumes this week after a year’s hiatus.
Saxon earned a card on the 2017 Web.com Tour, but hip surgery at the beginning of the year affected his momentum and he ultimately lost his card. However, in October he won the Peru Open on PGA TOUR Latinoamerica and last week won an event in Hainan for his third pro title in three years.
The strongly built American now begins the 14-stop PGA TOUR Series-China campaign with a year-long aim to top the money list, although he says he’s not putting any undue pressure on himself.
“For sure, I’d rather finish first than second. That’s my goal, although I’m not going to go out and chase it,” said Saxon, who also saw China’s Xinjun Zhang, fifth on the 2016 money list, progress with Dou from last year’s Web.com Tour to the current PGA TOUR.
“Two of the guys in the top five from 2016 are on the PGA TOUR now. That’s why I’m here – to get back on the Web.com Tour. Sometimes you just have to come back and regroup, do it again and hopefully I’ll be better for it next time around.”
On Tuesday morning, Saxon ventured to the People’s Park in Chengdu where he enjoyed tai chi, badminton and Chinese tea with compatriot Jeffrey Kang, China’s Zihao Chen, England’s Callum Tarren and Australian Kevin Yuan, whose parents are originally from Chengdu.
The big-hitting Saxon returned in the afternoon to continue practising at Luxehills where he said he’ll keep his trust driver in his bag for much of the week around the tight par-72 layout.
“I’m not hitting a lot of drivers out there. There are a lot of corners and bunkering that keeps you from doing that, but I’m a good iron player,” Saxon said.
“I think it’s a great golf course, nicely conditioned, the greens putt great and it suits my game. I’ve prepared well and I know my game’s in a good spot. If I win, that’s awesome, or maybe I win some other time this year or maybe not.”
The top five on this year’s Order of Merit earn status on next year’s Web.com Tour and Tarren is also among those eyeing the pathway to the US, having finished eighth on the 2016 money list. However, the 28-year-old from Darlington played down his chances this week after only playing one tournament since December.
“Truthfully, I’m a bit rusty. I’m hitting the ball fine, but I need to play a bit more golf and get back my course strategy. The course is good, very good, and I’m just going to plod it around and stick to my game plan,” Tarren said.
“The game feels fine, but I just need to get back to scoring again. If I want to be honest, my aim this week is to make the cut, get four rounds in and build a score, but I would love to play on Web.com Tour. It’s a competitive Tour and a gateway to the PGA TOUR.”
Every tournament on this year’s PGA TOUR Series-China will offer RMB 1.5 million, a 25-percent increase over purse levels from 2016. The second event is the Chongqing Championship at Poly Golf Club from March 22-25.
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.