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China’s Original Golf Legend

Twenty-five years ago Zhang Lianwei entered the world of golf by chance. Less than a decade later he became China’s first professional golfer and today is considered to be the Yao Ming of the sport. He was contentiously ruled out at the last minute from the line up at this month’s World Golf Championship – HSBC Champions in Sheshan by the Chinese Golf Association, but remains unfazed by the setback. In the lead up to the tournament, the trailblazer spoke with TALK, reflecting on his pioneering career and sharing his outlook on the future development of golf in China.

They call him Mr Volvo. With 17 professional wins to his name, Zhang Lianwei’s predilection for winning tournaments sponsored by the automaker, five in total, has earned him the amusing moniker. He is the first name in Chinese golf and although his country revels in his success, Zhang remains very modest about his achievements over the course of his groundbreaking career. “I don't think I've accomplished all that much. At most I'm sort of a pioneer of Chinese golf,” he says.

The self-effacing pro never dreamed of becoming a golfer. Born in Zhuhai in 1965, he originally trained as a javelin thrower. “I could throw an 800 gram javelin 58 metres. For a long time I held the Zhuhai city record. I'm not too good with my feet, but I'm good at sports where you use your hands.” He points out, “The strength in my waist and hands and my explosiveness comes from throwing the javelin.”

In 1985, Zhang found a job caddying and working odd jobs at Zhuhai’s brand-new golf course, one of the first built in China. He was 20 years of age the first time he picked up a golf club, yet he quickly transitioned his athletic gifts to the sport while simultaneously teaching himself the game's rules and strategies. “I didn't have anyone giving me advice. I was on my own and it was all a big adventure for me,” he says, estimating he is 90 per cent self-taught.

Over the next nine years Zhang struggled to make ends meet while developing as a golfer in a country nearly devoid of tournaments. After winning the China Amateur Open for the third time in 1994, he became the first Chinese golfer to turn professional. Focusing primarily on the Asian Tour, he won a number of tournaments early in his career. However, it was not until 2003 that he first rose to international prominence after becoming the only Chinese player to win a European PGA event. He capped off the year strongly, peaking at No. 2 on the Asian Tour; for his efforts he received a special invitation to the following year’s Masters Tournament – another first for Chinese player. His last tournament victory was in 2007.


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