LIUZHOU, GUANGXI, CHINA—Amateur prodigy Cheng Jin shot a tournament-low 5-under 67 to secure a 17-stroke, wire-to-wire win at the PGA TOUR Series-China Mainland China Qualifying Tournament in Liuzhou.
Jin, 19, eagled the par-5 18th to post his fourth successive sub-par round at Wolong Lake Golf Club and finish with a 12-under total of 276. Fellow teenage amateur Zihong Zhang (75) and Cilin Zhou (73) tied for second at 5-over, a shot ahead of Basiteng Fang (71) and Bin Yan (71).
Zehao Liu, 17, shot a 69 to join Zhi Xing (73) and Dihao Piao (73) in a three-way tie for 13th, securing the last full cards reserved for the top 15. Another 15 players secured conditional status, which was awarded to the next 14 and ties.
Many leading Chinese players already have status on this year’s PGA TOUR Series-China through the 2016 Order of Merit or their China Golf Association ranking. The top-five players on this year’s Order of Merit will earn status on the Web.com Tour, the path to the PGA TOUR.
Jin was the star from day one, leading by two, three and nine shots, respectively, after the first three rounds before saving his best for Friday. After setting off with birdies on Nos. 1, 4, 5 and 9, he dropped shots on 11 and 17, but birdied 16 and closed out a memorable week with an eagle.
“I played great today. I started really well and finished really well,” said Jin, a University of Southern California sophomore. “I made four birdies on the front nine, hung in during the middle of the round and fortunately was able to finish in a great way.”
Jin remains the youngest champion and only amateur to win on the PGA TOUR Series-China after the-then 16-year-old won the 2014 Nine Dragons Open in Zhejiang province, one of five top-10 finishes he recorded in the first two years of the Series.
In 2015, he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Hong Kong to earn a spot in the Masters Tournament the following year, his PGA TOUR debut. He won the 2016 Players Amateur in South Carolina to earn an invitation to the PGA TOUR’s RBC Heritage last April in Hilton Head.
Although Jin has not confirmed if or when he will turn pro, he said he’s looking forward to returning to the PGA TOUR Series-China, which resumes this month after a one-year hiatus.
“It’s a great Tour. PGA TOUR and the China Golf Association put such a great effort into this Tour and getting players to the next big stage. I played this Tour in 2014 and 2015, and had a lot of great memories out here, so I’m looking forward to a great new season,” said Jin, whose compatriots Haotong Li and current PGA TOUR players Zecheng Dou and Xinjun Zhang all progressed from the Series to the Web.com Tour.
“We are friends and I know them pretty well. I haven’t had a chance to talk to them recently, but I do see them on TV and on the Internet. They are great role models for me and I’m just trying to catch up to them.”
Looking ahead, Jin has stated that he’s likely to finish his second season with the Trojans and is targeting the NCAA Championships in Oklahoma in late May. USC was the No. 1-ranked team for most of 2017, making it to the quarterfinals of team match play before losing to Illinois. USC is currently 14th in the 2018 rankings.
“Our main goal this year is to win a national championship, and we also have a couple of regular tournaments coming up. We’re hosting a big conference tournament and there’s a lot coming up,” Jin said of the Pac-12 Conference championship at Rolling Hills Country Club. “So I’m excited and going it give it my best.
“There are also some midterms coming up so good luck to me!” added Jin, who will return to California just in time for exam week.
The 6-foot-6 Zhang was happy to finish second and earn his full card, but the 18-year-old believes his game still needs work if he wants to build a career at the pro level.
“Actually, every part of my technique needs to improve, but I think my putting was pretty good. I finished 17 shots behind, so there’s still a long way to go,” said Zhang, who made his first PGA TOUR Series-China cut at last year’s Clearwater Bay Open in Hong Kong.
Zhang said he has even considered turning pro before this month’s Chengdu Championship but admits he still needs to get approval from his family before any big decisions are made. “I will really consider it and will talk to my parents and we will see.”
This year’s PGA TOUR Series-China features 14 tournaments starting 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.
Two International Qualifying Tournaments featuring 120 players each were held in Hainan last month.
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.