Asked why they were happy to join a tournament with no prize money, Feng Shanshan and the rest of the pros in attendance at last weekend’s Sina Cup in Beijing were unequivocal in their answers: To benefit the future of Chinese golf.
A team led by former women’s world No 1 Feng emerged victorious over a squad helmed by veteran male trailblazer Liang Wenchong. The two non-playing captains guided their charges through fourballs and foursomes sessions on Friday before the tournament concluded with 12 singles rubbers on Saturday.
“I didn’t want to put pressure on my players. I wanted them to play freely and enjoy themselves,” said Feng, whose team boasted reigning CLPGA Tour order of merit champion Zhang Weiwei and won with a 17-7 scoreline.
“It’s all about learning and improving. I just feel great to see them playing to their own high standards and letting golf fans know about what their potential.
“Preparing for an event as a player, I have always started with myself. As a captain, I need to plan as a whole and ensure my players play to the best of their ability.”
Each captain was required to field six pros and six amateurs per session. In the first and second sessions, each team featured one pro and one amateur. For the final singles session, players of the same gender competed against each other.
“I’m very satisfied with how my players have proven themselves during the event,” added Feng. “The process was full of ups and downs for them and they never gave up. When they produced great shots, I was close to tears and acted just like a fan-girl cheering them on.”
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the sports world to hit the pause button in the first half of this year. While many professional golfers still have no tournaments to participate in, the amateurs－many of whom are university students－have been unable to return to their college teams in the US due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
So with both groups in China, the organizers recognized an opportunity to build a platform that allows future stars to interact with and learn from the country’s top guns.
“We always want to organize quality tournaments for the next generation of Chinese golfers, but the question has been how best to do this,” said Li Hong, managing director of the CLPGA.
“This year we invited many amateurs who are student-athletes of prestigious universities. The idea was to connect the amateurs to the professional players. Together with our partner, Sina, we saw an opportunity. It was a difficult process to prepare for the tournament, but we managed to make it happen within 30 days.
“It’s unprecedented. Feng Shanshan is staying in China due to the pandemic, and Liang Wenchong was very glad to come too. It’s a special opportunity because of the pandemic.”
Li is unsure what the future might hold for this event once the world finally returns to something resembling normality. However, she is hopeful more editions can be staged to connect the older and younger generations of Chinese golfers and leave a legacy behind.
“The past half year has been very unique, and we, as well as other sports, encountered unexpected difficulties due to the pandemic,” Li said. “We are unable to host events, especially outside China, and many international players are unable to come here.
“Some may just say why not rest this year. But the CLPGA is a tour with a long history and there are still sponsors who are supporting us. So as long as we can organize some events, we will try our best to continue.”
Veteran Liang clearly relished the chance to share his knowledge and experience with China’s new generation of golfing talent, with the former Asian Tour order of merit champion sacrificing his evening dinner slot to hold a long meeting with his players after Friday’s matches.
The 42-year-old said he was determined to make the most of the weekend.
“The pandemic forced golf and all other sports into something of an ‘ice age’,” said Liang, whose best result in his 10 major appearances was a tied-eighth finish at the 2010 PGA Championship.
“Nobody knows when they can get back to competing, but thanks to our country’s efforts to control the pandemic, we can now at least return to the right trajectory in life.
“I was excited when I heard about the Sina Cup. It’s special and Feng Shanshan is also here. It’s not easy to host such an event now. Many of our male golfers did not even have an event to join this year, and this is a great chance to warm up.
“Also, the amateurs are all outstanding people, not only as golfers but also as talented students in prestigious universities.”
As for the new breed, Liang saw huge potential in his young charges.
“They balance sports and the academic life and are great examples to parents who are thinking about encouraging their kids to play golf,” he said. “I communicated with them a lot and I could feel the difference between them and my generation of Chinese golfers. Overall, it’s been a very productive weekend.”