April 6: Asian Tour star Zhang Lian-wei will walk on the hallowed turf of Augusta National in Georgia at The Masters this week as he bids to reinforce the rise of Asian golf.
The pioneering Chinese professional golfer has achieved many accolades in his career but featuring in his maiden Masters appearance will undoubtedly become one of the major highlights.
Zhang, a self-taught golfer, will take on the likes of reigning champion Mike Weir, world number one Tiger Woods and Ernie Els at The Masters, which this year is celebrating Arnold Palmer’s 50th and final outing at Augusta National.
The Chinese ace will be aiming to emulate the performance of Asian stalwart Choi Kyung-ju of Korea, who finished tied 15th in his maiden Masters appearance last year.
The road from Shenzhen to Magnolia Lane has been long and windy for Zhang, whose sporting career started as a javelin thrower during his youth. But a decision to sign up as a caddy with Zhuhai International Golf Club, one of the first golfing establishments in mainland China, proved to be the launchpad to golfing fame.
The 38-year-old Zhang said: “I never thought I would get the opportunity to play on the US PGA Tour let alone the Masters. It is a dream come true. I am proud to be the first Chinese player to compete in the Masters, and in a Major, and I would like to thank August National, the US PGA Tour, China Golf Association and Asian Tour for their support.”
Zhang’s invitation to the Masters is seen as a reward for his great displays on the Asian, European and Japan Tours last season. He became the first Chinese to win on the European Tour when he lifted the Caltex Masters Presented by Carlsberg in Singapore in 2003, edging then world number two Ernie Els with a great birdie on the final hole, and followed up with victory in the Volvo China Open.
“I’ve watched the Masters on television in the past and now I am actually going to play in it – I am already looking forward to it. This will be good for golf in China and Asia. To be the first Chinese player in a Major will be great as hopefully it will encourage more youngsters to take up the game in the country,” said Zhang.
Hong Kong based Kyi Hla Han, the new chairman of the Asian Tour, said: “It is great that Zhang Lian-wei has been given an invitation to play in the US Masters. It is the best thing that could happen for Asian golf. It shows the development of the Asian players over the last few years – it is very encouraging.”
Zhang has won five times in Asia including back to back victories in the 2001 and 2002 Macau Opens. He has also beaten the likes of Colin Montgomerie and Nick Price at the Dunhill Cup in St Andrews and also became the first Asian winner on the Canadian Tour in 2000.