Adam Scott had just been outdone by a 12-year old girl. Playing the 17th hole of the WGC-HSBC Champions Pro-Am in November, Scott found a bunker and made bogey. Lucy Shi Yuting, a 13-time winner in three years on the HSBC National Junior Championship, made par.
On that day, Scott and other elite players who had gathered for the WGC event, grasped the remarkable progress China is making in the game.
“These are the Olympic champions and world champions of the future. They’re fantastic,” said Europe’s Ryder Cup-winning captain Colin Montgomerie after conducting a clinic with some of the younger children from the HSBC China Junior Golf Program.
“They’re proper golfers,” Montgomerie said. “They’re not just kids that can hit a golf ball on the range. These are complete golfers at nine years old: Driver, putting and short game.”
“I think in the next 10 years, you’ll see a tremendous growth into competitive golf. I’m talking about into the world’s top 100. That’s inevitable. It’s going to happen. We have to accept that. The competition is coming from this part of the world: Korea, China especially. ”
As Montgomerie was saying those words, Mickelson was coming off the course having also encountered Yuting at the 17th, three days after she beat her rivals by 12 shots over three rounds at the HSBC National Junior Championship final.
“She hit a 6-iron to about 15 feet from the hole, lipped out the putt and made par. She is an incredible player,” Mickelson said.
“You could tell right away that she’s got a lot of potential to be a great golfer. She has a wonderful swing, a great short game, great putting stroke. . .I hope that she continues to develop and continues to play well and improve and become a force on the LPGA.”
Back on the range, Montgomerie said the Chinese youngster he saw were far superior to their equivalent age group in the United States and Europe.
“And of course the work ethic here is different,” Montgomerie said. “These kids are prepared to put in the hours it takes nowadays to become very, very good. You can see how they love it.
“I was a lazy player myself; two or three hours and I was getting a little bit bored. These kids? Six, seven hours a day and just golf. Then they’re studying as well. This is where the future is. Now golf has become an Olympic sport, in this country it can only add to the opportunities given to them and the incentives given to them.”
In 2010, the China Golf Association celebrated a milestone; the one thousandth child since 2007 competed in the HSBC National Junior Championship.
“A thousand children may not sound like a lot over the four years that we have been investing in the China Golf Association’s program, but that’s the top of the pyramid,” said Giles Morgan, HSBC group head of sponsorship.
“Below the top of that pyramid, we have had 8,000 children who have come through our summer and winter camps, learning the great game of golf, and below that, at the foundation of the pyramid, we have had 200,000 children touching golf for the first time in their schools’ PE lessons through the HSBC Education Program,” said Morgan.