BROOKSVILLE, Fla. – Carl Yuan doesn’t like to think about what he could’ve bought with the 270,000 yuan he would’ve received had he not been amateur for his first professional victory. He knows the experience he gained from his four-start amateur apprenticeship on the PGA Tour China this summer was far more valuable than any check.
“It was a good transition time for me playing a couple of pro events as an amateur,” said Yuan, who won the Qingdao Championship in July, just a few months after deciding to leave the University of Washington after three years. “I got used to what pro golf feels like, so I don’t feel bad that I won without getting paid.
“Probably if I turned pro early, I may not have even won that.”
Yuan, 21, instead entered the pro ranks with loads of confidence. After representing China in the Asian Games, he began his pro career in August with three straight top-10s on the PGA Tour China and last month teed it up in his first World Golf Championships event, where he tied for 35th in a field featuring most of the world’s best players.
Yuan, who earned his spot as one of the top six ranked golfers in the world rankings (he is currently No. 466), opened with 78 at Sheshan International in Shanghai, but recovered, shooting his best round, a third-round 70, alongside Rory McIlroy and Kevin Na. Yuan beat both players by a combined 12 shots that day.
“For me to see Carl, as long as I’ve known him, playing with Rory and stepping up on the first tee and hitting it 340 right down the middle, it was really cool to see,” said Yuan’s longtime swing coach Holton Freeman, who works out of the Foley Performance Academy at EaglesDream in Lake Mary, Fla. “There were a lot of times where Rory would step up on a par-3 and hit a really good shot and Carl would step up right behind him and hit the same exact shot. … It was cool to see Carl with those guys and look like the best player in the group even though he’s so far behind them in experience and all that stuff.”
Freeman has seen Yuan transform from a chubby teenager with tons of raw talent across the board into a health- and fitness-conscious young man with the maturity to match his skills. Playing alongside a four-time major winner in McIlroy, Freeman knew his student could handle it. Yuan did, too.
“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” Yuan said. “I was more relaxed playing with Rory and Kevin Na (than in any other round). I don’t have any pressure playing against them. I’m a rookie. I just turned pro two months ago. What am I scared of?”
This week, the competition doesn’t feature nearly as many big names, but it doesn’t mean it’s any easier. Yuan is competing in the second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School at Southern Hills Plantation in Brooksville, Fla., where he sits five shots back of the top 18 and ties that advance to final stage.
Even after shooting a 3-over 75 Wednesday, Yuan was in good spirits. He knows this isn’t the end of the world for him. He plans to Monday qualify for the RSM Classic next week and will play in the Australian PGA later this month. If he doesn’t earn his Web.com Tour card, he has the PGA Tour China to fall back on.
He also desires to play more in Europe next year.
“I’m excited to see where pro golf takes me,” Yuan said.