Shanghai, China (May 19): Li Haotong, third in the 2017 Open Championship and the first mainland Chinese golfer to feature in the Presidents Cup, is making the most out of golf’s enforced shutdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The mercurial Li has used his extended time at home to plan for a quick return into the upper echelons in the world order after slipping out of the top-50 of the Official World Golf Ranking last year.
The 24-year-old has read books to enrich his mind, invested in fitness equipment and a golf simulator to get stronger and sharper and more importantly, donated US$142,647 from his Presidents Cup charitable allocation towards the Hubei Charity Federation for Covid-19 relief.
“I am very touched to see those workers who are going to the frontlines for assistance,” said Li, winner of the inaugural PGA Tour Series-China Order of Merit.
Now a two-time European Tour winner, Li hopes his dedication will revive his form which has seen him notch only two top-10s in the past year. He also lost his two matches at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne Golf Club last December, which soured a highly anticipated debut as the first mainland Chinese golfer to qualify for the International Team.
“I have conducted a review of my whole career and had a lot of talks with my family and friends, trying to find out where I can do better in the future. And the more I think about it, the desire of getting back to play in tournaments grows. There’s one thing that I’m certain that this shutdown would only make me love golf more,” he said.
“I think the number one priority (during the shutdown) is to keep practicing because this is a great chance to adjust my swing and improve my skills.”
He reckons his decline in form has been self-inflicted. “I always wanted every shot to be perfect and, apparently, that doesn’t help you when you are not in the best condition. So, this is what I’m working on aside from my golf techniques.”
Li added that he enjoyed reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, a book which has sold over two million copies and been translated into 30 foreign languages. It touches on the principles of finding one’s true and deepest self which piqued his interest.
“I’ve been reading books and learning new things which has been a good way to spend time. The Eckhart Tolle book is mainly about how to communicate with your deepest self and how to find your inner peace. Some opinions could be helpful, like how to focus on ‘now’ and how this would help you get rid of some negative thoughts. But I have to say that I may not agree with all the points the author raised. Generally speaking, it’s worth a read,” said Li.
The golf break enabled Li to continue with a course in Sports Training by the Shenzhen University and he has also spent time competing with compatriot Wu Ashun on the golf simulator.
“I was be able to finish some college courses which I missed out in the past. And playing a few times on the CGA Simulator Challenge with my Tour buddy Ashun was fun,” he said.
He misses the competition ‘a lot’ and cannot wait to tee it up again to get the adrenalin flowing once more. “(I’ve missed) the cheering crowd, all my friends on Tour, and mostly the exciting feeling that you get after making a nice shot during competition,” said the lanky Chinese.
The health situation has served to remind Li to value what he has achieved in his career thus far, including the two victories on the European Tour. He won three times on the 2014 PGA Tour Series-China en route to becoming the number one on the developmental circuit.
In 2017 at Royal Birkdale he had an Open debut to remember when he took third place – easily the best Major performance by a Chinese male player – after a closing 63 which would have equalled the major record but for the fact that Branden Grace scored the sport’s first 62 the previous day.
“Luckily, none of my family and friends were affected by the virus directly. My mom been very cautious and when I was still out there playing on Tour months back, she always shared tips with me and reminds me to wash my hands often and wear masks,” he said.
Li is not giving up his dream of competing full-time on the PGA Tour and returning for a second Presidents Cup appearance next year when Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina hosts the team competition.
“The PGA Tour is a very challenging Tour where you have to bring out your best game against the world’s top players every week to stay high up on the ranking. In the past, I’ve played some good rounds in major events but I would need to get that stability and be more mentally strong. This is what I’m working on right now,” said Li.
“The experience (at the Presidents Cup) is quite unforgettable and I still feel excited about that. I didn’t play in every round and I believe in our captain (Ernie Els) and every decision he made. Honestly speaking, I could have done better in those two matches which I played in but I didn’t and that is the most disappointing part of my first Presidents Cup journey. But as I said just after the tournament, I believe I can prove myself if I get a chance to play in the International Team again.
“I loved the atmosphere of the Presidents Cup which you won’t know until you’ve been there. I didn’t have a great debut but I want to go back and prove myself.”