RYDER CUP SKIPPER BJORN PRAISES “REMARKABLE” GROWTH IN CHINESE GOLF

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn returns to playing action at the Volvo China Open in Beijing this week admitting he is greatly impressed by “the remarkable growth in golf in China.”

The Dane, a 15-time winner on The European Tour and the man at the helm of Europe’s 2018 Ryder Cup campaign, has seen huge advances in the Chinese game since finishing as runner-up at the Volvo China Open in 2004.

“There has been a remarkable growth of golf in China and it is truly now an integral part of our global game,” he said on the eve of a tournament that has celebrated two home-grown winners in the past two years

“The professionals are putting their own stamp on world golf and although this sport often has a way of taking its time to grow this can be positive as things can sometimes develop far too fast. At the moment, Chinese golf is in a great place and is coming on very well both in terms of its players and its tournaments, while the fact that golf is also in the Olympics can only help grown the game in this country.”

While Bjorn will he keen to get his competitive juices flowing again in the RMB 20 million Volvo China Open, at 46 years of age he is under no illusion as to the difficulty of the challenge ahead. “It’s been a while since I had top finishes in this tournament and I’m still struggling to play and practice mainly because of injuries and getting older,” he added.

“I’ve got a long summer ahead of me where I’ll focus on being able to hit good golf shots again but, for now, it’s great to be here to see players like Thorbjorn (Olesen), Chris (Wood) and Bernd (Wiesberger) up close and personal. I know they have all the talent in the world as golfers but this is a good way for me to get to know them as people.”

While Olesen and Wiesberger have yet to play in the competition, Wood knows only too well what it feels like to be a Ryder Cup player and the towering Englishman is determined to be in Bjorn’s squad for Paris in 2018.

“There is no pressure on us with Thomas being here as we don’t start getting Ryder Cup points until September – this week is all about the event itself,” said Wood. “But having had a taste of the Ryder Cup, I know what an incredible occasion it is and I don’t want to miss out next year.”

The Volvo China Open is a welcome return to action for Wood, who recently became a father for the first time. “What have I been up to? Nappies mainly,” he laughed. “My life has changed completely and it’s been difficult to find time to practice. Certainly things have changed but it is important to keep on top of my golf game and I’ve still managed to get around 3-4 hours practice a day before getting back to the little one.”

Now sixth in The Race to Dubai following last week’s victory in the Shenzhen International, Wiesberger will be aiming to maintain a recent run of form that has seen him lift his fourth European Tour crown and not miss a cut this season.

“Here is certainly different from Shenzhen but we travel a lot and experience a wide variety of conditions on The European Tour so we will be able to adapt quickly,” said the World Number 30. “The course is forgiving off the tee but you have to be precise with your approach to the greens around here.”

The fourth of the European Tour stars facing the media at Topwin Golf and Country Club today (April 26) was Bjorn’s fellow Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, who finished tied for eighth in Shenzhen. “I like the course here as it really suits my eye and has a great layout so I’m delighted to be back,” said the 27-year-old.

Olesen and Wiesberger will start their 2017 Volvo China Open campaign on Thursday (April 27) in the company of defending champion Lia Hao-tong from China at 7.30am, while Bjorn and Wood will tee off just before them at 7.20am alongside former winner Alexander Levy of France.

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