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      Carl putts nation first on Tokyo's greens

      China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-29 09:01
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      China's Carl Yuan Yechun in action during golf men's individual in Saitama, Japan on July 29, 2021. [Photo/IC]

      Team China golfer's personal ambitions on hold as he targets Olympic medal to boost domestic game's development

      China's Carl Yuan Yechun believes winning an Olympic medal in the men's golf competition would be "revolutionary" for the game's development in the Middle Kingdom.

      By committing to the Tokyo 2020 Games, Yuan has put country above self, effectively scuppering his hopes of graduating from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour this year.

      Along with compatriot Wu Ashun, who is making his second Olympic appearance, the 24-year-old Yuan said he could not pass up the chance to don the Chinese flag at Tokyo's Kasumigaseki Country Club, where the action tees off on Thursday.

      "We play week to week, but this is probably the most excited and nervous I've ever been," said Yuan.

      "I am normally playing for myself but this is for all the people in my country who are behind me and supporting me.

      "Wearing this flag, I'm ready to show the world who we are. We (China) started playing the game late but I have faith that if there's anybody who can do it, we can."

      While Feng Shanshan delivered a bronze medal for China in the women's tournament in Rio five years ago, Yuan reckons another podium finish by either himself or Wu, a three-time European Tour winner, will renew golf's momentum in the world's most populous nation.

      "It (winning a medal) would be revolutionary for our industry in China, and would give a lot of hope to our generation as well that we can play great in this game, that we can compete against the Europeans and Americans," said Yuan.

      "If we put in the hard work, it's possible it can be done by a Chinese. A lot more people would be interested in playing our sport."

      In order to fulfill his national duty, Yuan needed to return to China for centralized training at the end of June, which meant missing a bunch of tournaments on the Korn Ferry Tour. He was ranked just outside the circuit's top 25, which is the cutoff point for players to earn PGA Tour cards from the regular season.

      "I probably have to miss the rest of the season," conceded Yuan.

      "There is some sacrifice that had to be done. Being able to do this for my country which happens once every four years, it's a one-of-a-kind experience.

      "I'll never regret doing this. I'll probably try some Monday qualifying on the PGA Tour or hopefully get some exemptions before the Korn Ferry starts again next year."

      So far at the Games in Japan, Yuan has enjoyed experiences that money cannot buy, including walking out as part of the Team China delegation in last Friday's opening ceremony.

      "This is something I've not experienced before. I've played in the Asian Games but this is different. Being able to attend the opening ceremony with my team was pretty amazing," he said.

      "Being seen on TV by millions of people, being one of the athletes at this great sports meet, it gives me confidence in what I've been doing and it means a tremendous amount to me. Being able to play in this field with the best 60 players in the world, it shows a lot about how much I have put in to get to this point. I'm just excited to get the week started."

      Growing up in Dalian, Liaoning province, Yuan learned to play golf at the age of 9 thanks to his father's influence, before moving to the US when he was 14 to attend high school. It was there that his passion for the game grew and he ultimately decided it would be his career path.

      His journey is helped by the fact that his wife, Luo Ying, is also a pro golfer. The couple met in college where Yuan attended the University of Washington, and he says his wife has been a pillar of support as he chases his dreams.

      Yuan expects scoring at Kasumigaseki's East course to be low this week.

      "The course is a great challenge. There are lots of trees and the rough is pretty heavy. If you don't hit it to the right spot, it'll be a challenge to even have a two-putt," said Yuan.

      "It's a great ball-strikers' golf course, and you need to hit a lot of fairways and greens and capitalize on your chances when you have those 20-foot putts. It can be tough too when it gets windy.

      "We've got the best players in the world and I'd imagine a few will go low. I've got to play my own game and take my chances on the easier holes. I'm feeling pretty good about my game and have a good strategy on how to attack this place."

      PGA Tour contributed to this story.

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