Zhang Looks to Yao Ming for Masters Inspiration

ZhangApril 8: Chinese ace Zhang Lian-wei is hoping to follow in the footsteps of NBA star Yao Ming as he begins his historic Masters campaign on Thursday.

The Asian Tour stalwart met the basketball star at the weekend en route to Georgia for the year’s first Major where he watched Yao’s Houston Rockets take on the LA Lakers. With seven-footer Yao now firmly established in America, Zhang is hoping to follow in a similar path.

“Yao Ming has adapted well in the NBA and in America, so perhaps I can learn a bit from him, ” said Zhang.

Both men met after the game with Zhang suggesting that their next meeting should be on the golf course. Zhang is eagerly looking forward to being the first golfer from China to tee up at the Masters after earning an invitation from Augusta National.

Next month, he will return to the US to take up invitations in The Memorial, an event hosted by Jack Nicklaus, and FedEx St Jude Classic on the PGA Tour. Zhang said that he would consider taking up more invitations in America if he adapts well to the playing conditions.

So far this week, Zhang has played practice rounds with former Masters champion Fred Couples and on Wednesday, he played with Korea’s Choi Kyung-ju, who will be playing in his second Masters.

The self-taught Chinese golfer said the famed Augusta layout was truly challenging, with its slick greens poised to challenge the best golfers in the world. He will play the opening two rounds with Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer and Spaniard Sergio Garcia.

To help him negotiate the demanding Augusta course, Zhang has hired local caddie John Wood, who previously caddied for Mark Calcavecchia when the American played in the Masters.

Obviously, both men have trouble communicating fluently due to the language barrier but Wood was confident of helping his man enjoy his Masters debut.

“He speaks golf English,” said Wood. “He knows numbers. He understands body language. We’re having a great time. I’m enjoying it. It’s fun being around someone who’s here for the first time,” said Wood.

Zhang is also living in comfort at Augusta. He has rented a house which was previously used by the legendary Sam Snead.