October 10, 2019

Player’s Take: Zhengkai Bai

Zhengkai Bai decided to turn pro midway through his senior season at the University of Central Florida. His education didn’t end, though. While pursuing his professional golf dreams on PGA TOUR Series-China, where he is sixth on the Order of Merit with one tournament remaining in the 2019 season, he is also taking a full load of classes as he is on track to earn his degree in December. When Bai won the Huangshan Championship in June, his first professional title, no one should have been surprised. Bai has done plenty of winning since arriving in the U.S., capturing the 2017 Palmetto Amateur in Aiken, S.C. As a sophomore, Bai won his first college tournament, the 2018 Boilermaker Invitational, in West Lafayette, Ind. That week, he edged current Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada player Kyle Mueller and Duncan McNeill by a shot. He won his second tournament earlier this year, the Hartford Hawks Invitational and then added a title at the FAU Invitational hosted by Florida Atlantic University, where he got past his teammate, Kyler Tate. With his amateur career behind him, he’s focusing on what he hopes is a career that will take him to the PGA TOUR.

 

My English name is Bobby. My coach at Sean Foley Performance at Eagle Dreams, Holton Freeman, gave me the name. I like it.

I arrived in America from China when I was in the 11th grade. I came from Shantou in Guangdong Province. I went to Lake Mary Prep outside Orlando for my final year of high school. I would say I could speak 50 percent, maybe 60 percent of the English I can speak now when I first got to Florida.

At first, I was struggling a little bit with my golf. I wasn’t playing very well. For the world rankings, I was ranked higher when I was 13 and 14 than I was when I was 17. I was somewhere around 400th in the world and the fourth- or fifth-ranked amateur in China, but when I got to the States I dropped to worse than a thousand.

I got to the U.S. pretty late in my high school life. I only had a year left before I graduated, so I didn’t have too many (college) options. But I picked UCF, and I loved it. I did visit Arizona State, UNC (University of North Carolina) and Mississippi State.

UCF is a big school. I like the facilities there, and it’s quite close to where I had practiced when I was in high school. It was a pretty easy choice for me.

My first two years at UCF, I majored in economics, but I switched to interdisciplinary studies. I am set to graduate at the end of this year. I have one semester left. Even though I stopped playing college golf to turn pro, I still wanted to get my degree. I am doing all my classes online now.

My sister was the first college graduate in our family. She went to school in Paris, France. I’ll be the second graduate.

I decided to turn pro before my (college) eligibility ended because I felt like I was ready. I had a lot of conversations with my parents and my coaches, and we came up with the decision together. My coach at UCF, Coach (Bryce) Wallor was very supportive. I told him when he was recruiting me that I may not stay all four years, and I felt he understood that.

It’s different now than it was when I was in college. Out here as a pro, you have to pay for everything yourself. I’ve learned a lot about booking (airline) tickets and hotels. It’s a little different, but I’ve enjoyed it.

I love being on this Tour, staying home and playing on courses I’m familiar with. I love the food here. I think this is the place for me to get to the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA TOUR.

I’ve always looked up to Tiger (Woods) and DJ (Dustin Johnson), and Liang Wenchong and Zhang Lianwei, the first professionals from China. We’re doing better and better with golf in China, and there are a lot of young players winning and shooting low scores. I feel like if Li Haotong or Dou Zecheng can do it, I can do it too. I just have to try to work harder to accomplish my goals.

Besides golf, playing sports has always been a lot of fun. I love sports, and I used to play basketball a lot. But it’s too easy to get hurt. I went skiing last year in Minnesota. It was my first time seeing snow. I loved it even though I think I fell for the first two hours.

If I took 10 three-pointers right now, I think I would make maybe five or six. But 10 20-foot putts? I might make three or four