Phil Mickelson evidently feels at home in China. It must be the historical fondness for “Leftists’.
The left-handed American golfer – nicknamed Lefty – last Sunday recaptured the HSBC Champions title, having previously won the Shanghai-based tournament in 2007.
“I’m very excited to see people in China getting so excited about golf,” said Mickelson, who pocketed $1.2 million after his win at the Sheshan Golf Club. “The galleries were much bigger than in the previous two years.” In fact, crowds for the final day were up 25%.
Mickelson’s excitement about the Middle Kingdom has a commercial twist too. He’s designing two course – one in Tianjin and one in Kunming – and is also building a golf academy.
His timing – like his short game – can’t be faulted. As reported in WiC35, golf is going into a growth spurt in China, helped by the sport’s recent inclusion as an Olympic event. That has helped to redefine the game’s elitist image and kindle medal hopes – which means promoting the game at a grassroots level and building more public courses.
Golf’s international governing bodies are excited by China’s potential too. The HSBC Champions event was this year upgraded into a World Golf Championship tournament, which ranks it just below a ‘major’. Thanks to its new status, the tournament attracted 15 of the world’s top 20 golfers. That’s the best field any Asian tournament has seen.
Golf bulls were everywhere. Jack Nicklaus reckons a new wave of course construction could see 5,000 courses playable within 36 months. There are just 500 courses today. Tiger Woods was also upbeat, telling the BBC: “With the inclusion of golf in the Olympics, it will change perceptions and there’s going to be a huge boom in the game in China over the next 20 years.”
Mind you, golf etiquette still has some way to go, as Tiger discovered at last weekend’s event. Visibly losing his temper, he hit a few wild shots when spectators clicked away on their cameras during his backswing.
As he rather diplomatically told the BBC, playing in China makes for a unique experience. “There’s a lot of people out there. A lot of people moving, and a lot of people with cameras.”
Meanwhile Mickelson did his own bit for golf diplomacy when he gave his winning ball to a local toddler.
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