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A name to remember
Golf reporting in America oscillates between the sublimely sycophantic and the outrageously condescending. It has been shown at its very best this week with the reporting of the Phoenix Open and the Caltex Masters in Singapore.

The US press is not frequently given to even mentioning, far less reporting, overseas events. Indeed, pro-celebrity tournaments in the States are given more column inches than any European Tour event - unless, of course, Tiger Woods is performing, as in his annual German sojourn when his is referred to as the 'specially invited Tiger'.

That the Singapore event merited a mention at all is solely due to the appearance of Ernie Els and, more important, the fact that he did not win. His back-to-back victories on the US Tour over the previous two weeks were reported largely in terms of Els' wins in the absence of Woods - managing to convey sycophancy and condescension at one and the same time.

What has given most satisfaction in the States is that Els suffered defeat at the hands of a Chinaman, and clearly a Chinaman unknown and unrecorded on the north American Continent. Only one in five reported that the Chinaman in question has, in fact, a world ranking placement and that one made much of the fact that he was occupying a lowly 141st place. What it did not mention was the number of qualifying tournaments that the Chinaman played in, far less the number that he actually had access to.

Lian-Wai Zhang, the first Chinese winner on the European Tour is not unknown, he is not a new kid out of China nor is he the first from his country to play golf at tournament level. Indeed, in the assessment of many Zhang is overdue a tournament win for he has been playing sterling golf for many years. He is 37-years-old and has a whole cluster of Asian titles under his belt and Els is not the first of his big time scalps.

In 1998 his Asian exploits were well documented when he turned up in St Andrews as a member of the Chinese team that had qualified for the Dunhill Cup that year. His team stood less chance of winning than a snowball maintaining its integrity in hell but no one told Zhang that and he memorably defeated Colin Montgomerie over the Old Course with some stunning golf. Monty was subsequently fulsome in his praise of Zhang, which speaks volumes one way or another. Nick Price suffered a similar defeat at the hands of Zhang last October in the Macao Open when Price was also quick to extol the excellence of Zhang's play.

The fact that Zhang could hang onto Els' coat tails through four rounds of golf in Singapore will come as no surprise to Monty and Price, even if it did astonish the US press. It certainly did not take four rounds to dawn on Els that he had a diminutive problem on his hands as Zhang kept holing the putts.

Of course it will be said that Els threw the Caltex Masters away. The fact that he took 73 shots in his last round justifies that conclusion. Clearly the heat and jet lag got to the Big Easy - but so too did Zhang. Even after missing the last green with his second shot Els must have envisaged a play off at least as foe Zhang was yet five feet from the hole and his birdie a far from foregone conclusion under the circumstances. Els chipped onto the green but was not close enough to make his par. A less seasoned player than Zhang would have dutifully missed his birdie putt and respectfully gone into a play-off. The fact that Zhang holed out showed that he has the stamina, concentration, character and sphincter control of a great champion.

Els was quick with his praise of Zhang just as Monty and Price had been in the past. But one feels that Els rather regretted Singapore and rued missing out on the chance of striding all over the guys in Phoenix.

One last word for the US press. Golf has not just arrived in China. Apart from the fact that at different times and at different places both Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have opened 'the first course' on mainland China, the game has been played there for at least 100 years. China had at least eight courses when the first Chinese Amateur Championship was held in 1924. What the Japanese invasion failed to demolish chairman Mao put paid to in 1949. Nationalist China or Taiwan produced great names in the diminutive forms of Mr Hsieh and Mr Lu who took second place in the Open in 1971 only a stroke behind Lee Trevino. Mr Zhang comes from a long line of Chinese golfers and I suspect that the best is yet to come.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SGU or ScottishGolf.

©    29 - JANUARY 2003

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