“’In the land of China, people hardly got nothin’ at all.’ -Forrest Gump” – Benton Kircher
What do they have in China then, you ask? Well, a bajillion people, towns full of high-rise housing developments where each building is identical to the next, and some really good golf courses.
I didn’t bring my Flex-o-lite ping pong paddle like Gump, but I did bring my sticks for a couple months worth of golf tournaments on the Ping An Bank – PGA Tour China Series.
The season started this week in Zhengzhou, Henan, a “small city” of 6.5 million people.
My friend Benton met up with me to caddy for a few events, and the culture shock was obvious on our first day here. We started out by getting scammed by a taxi on the way from the airport to our hotel in Zhengzhou city center, as the meter was rigged. The driver also made us get out of the car for a few minutes in the middle of the ride so he could do something at the gas station — I’m hesitant to say he filled up the gas tank because the refuel light remained on the entire ride.
After getting over our jet lag, we went out into the city to get new SIM cards. Three hours later, we came back to the hotel defeated, as only one store in the whole city sells cards to foreigners. Our Mandarin is still lacking, so the directions to that store were lost in translation.
We regrouped and tried to get dinner at a hot pot restaurant, only to be walked through the kitchen, up the back staircase, into what I think was a family area. They gave us small bowls and ushered us to the “salad bar”, which consisted of cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, Kix cereal, and animal crackers. Thankfully there was a McDonald’s in the neighborhood.
On Sunday we finally headed to the host hotel for the tournament, which was in the next town over, Kaifeng. It was definitely a change in scenery, a 12 star (is that possible?) hotel for a mini-tour budget price.
The course was great, too. Named St. Andrews Zhengzhou, it didn’t resemble it’s Scottish namesake, but it definitely played harder. Every hole, with the exception of the par-three 14th, had water hazard or out of bounds both left and right. And all of them are in play. I’ve never had my confidence sucked from me so quickly. Add that with severe slopes on every green going any which way, and you end up with a professional tournament with a winning score of two-under and a cut of seven-over.
The funniest part of all this, however, is that I should be expecting this week in and week out on PGA Tour China. The Chinese are notorious for building golf courses as hard as possible. I couldn’t tell you why, but they love the challenge of breaking 90. Common amateur players in China will play water hazards and cart paths as OB lines. One friend— I made a friend! —told me he played a course with a pond in the middle of the green. Hard pass on that one, but thanks.
Anyway, I must have left my swing on the plane on the flight over to China. I hit eight balls in the drink over the two days I played. My short game saved me on day one, then disappeared on day two. The result was by far my worst result as a professional. St. Andrews (Zhengzhou) Henan Open 76-81 – MC.
Thankfully, we had a week off before the upcoming second event of the season. Ben and I didn’t get much R&R however, as we took a train to Beijing for a couple of nights, traveled to Taiwan for a few days to visit some guy named Danny, and then hopped over to Kobe, Japan to see a new place and to try to get into the U.S. Open sectional qualifier as the first alternate on the list.
Of course, things don’t always work out as you’d like. I had a great practice round at Higashi Hirono Golf Club, as I definitely played better than I did in Zhengzhou, but maybe my opinion of the day and the course hinged more on the craziness that was the self-driving golf carts and moving walkways up bigger hills, rather than my swing or my putting.
We showed up to the course the day of the qualifier, hoping someone would withdraw that morning due to a late finish on the Japan Tour the day before. The USGA protocol for this specific qualifier is to set the field on the morning of the qualifier, so anyone who withdrew the previous day or earlier do not count for the field, and therefore, myself as an alternate.
The tee times came and went without a single person no showing or withdrawing. While Japan was a fantastic place to visit, it was hard to know we went all the way to another country without even getting into the qualifier.
Up next is the UI Real Estate Open, in Wuhan. It’s the start of a stretch of three tournaments in three weeks.
Also, Ben almost didn’t get through customs in China today. He’s rocking a very thick mustache, and the officers weren’t convinced the guy in the passport, driver’s license, and student ID was the same one standing in front of them. Moral of the story, always shave before your international flights.
Clockwise; from left:
Walking on water is as hard as one would imagine… That’s a moving walkway at a Japanese golf course!! Like the airport!!… Higashi Hirono, par-3 17th