THE VOLVO CHINA JUNIOR MATCH PLAY – THE ROAD TO THE FUTURE

Perhaps the most interested spectator on Sunday at the 2017 Volvo China Open was European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, who flew in from London to witness the drama unfold.

Following the exciting final round - which concluded in a one-hole play-off victory by former champion Alex Levy of France over South Africa’s Dylan Frittelli, Pelley predicted a “very, very bright future” for Chinese golf.

Pelley arrived at Topwin Golf and Country Club in Beijing in time to see the final 18 holes of what had been a memorable event and an even more memorable climax, with Levy becoming the first player to win the prestigious title twice.

Won in 2015 by Wu Ashun and in 2016 by Li Hao-tong, the Volvo China Open once again saw a strong showing by Chinese-born players with six making the cut and both Li and Wu finishing tied 11th and 24th respectively.

Pelley praised both Volvo and the China Golf Association (CGA) for leading the way in the growth of the sport in the world’s most populous nation.

There is no question that Volvo’s sponsorship and their involvement in Chinese junior golf has certainly led to the development of some great stars,” he said.

You don’t have to look any further than Li Hao-tong, who won the Volvo China Junior Match Play Championship in 2010 and then went on to win the Volvo China Open. That’s a perfect example, a great illustration of their commitment to junior golf.

“I really believe in the China Golf Association and their commitment to excellence and to grass roots golf here in China and I believe that when you start to look at some of the success they’ve had on the world stage - when you look at Wu and Li - I think China has a very, very bright future.

“The success and longevity of the sport is great partners,” Pelley added. “Volvo has not just been a great partner to us at the European Tour - I think they’ve been a part of 86 events on the Tour over the past 30 years – but they’ve also been a great supporter of golf supporting close to 150 events so far worldwide. Their partnership is terrific and the game of golf couldn’t flourish without great partners like Volvo.”

The concept of winning a place in the national Open is without doubt a strong incentive to the 16 competitors in the Volvo China Junior Match Play boy’s group, and with the example set by previous winner Li, Dou Ze-cheng and Jin Cheng, that incentive will only grow stronger.

Zhang Jun-bin, the 2016 winner, had played in the Match Play event several times before eventually taking the title to earn himself a place in the Volvo China Open. And although the draw in professional golf events sees players of similar ability play together in the opening two rounds, those that make the cut might find themselves in the same flight as a player in the world top-20.

The influence such an opportunity can have on a young player is incalculable, but once a player gets to compete on the world stage he or she adapts to a “comfort zone” of belonging to that select group of players.

A classic example of this is Li Hao-tong, who currently stands at 14th on the Race to Dubai rankings with earnings of Euro 1,184, 891. Li is entirely comfortable in the company of players in the world top 20.

Li and Wu also competed in the Rio Olympic Games last year, and capped that impressive performance with a joint second place finish in the World Cup of Golf in Melbourne behind the victorious Denmark team.

“Volvo's junior match play event, the qualifiers and of course the Volvo China Open have all been part of my maturity as a professional,” said Li after winning in Beijing in 2016.

The opportunity to compete on a regular basis in high level events is exactly what is needed for players to learn their craft and improve their skills. And this has been exactly the focus of the Volvo China Junior Match Play Championships – to provide a platform for China’s very best junior players to become better, and for the best of the best to eventually compete on the world stage.

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