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Zhang's a Green Machine

Pub Date:18-06-15 16:12 Source:China Daily

Chinese youngster Zhang Jin starts this weekend's 1.5-million-yuan ($230,000) Kunming Championship at Yulongwan with big expectations after finishing runner-up to American Charlie Saxon in Guilin last week and soaring to ninth on the PGA Tour Series-China order of merit.

Zhang, 22, has reason to be confident, too. Two months ago in a European Challenge Tour event at Yulongwan, he was China's top finisher with a tie for seventh, one shot behind Saxon.

Zhang said the greens at the mountainous venue-1,900 meters above sea level in the southwestern province of Yunnan-remind him of Concession Golf Club in Sarasota, Florida, where he practiced while attending high school in the US.

"I love the fast greens at this course. They're like the greens I played on when I studied in America," said Zhang, who lives with his parents and sister in his native Anhui province.

"The greens at Concession were so good and the greens here are unbelievable-so fast and true. My feel on the greens was good in April, so I hope it's the same this week."

Zhang has been coached by American Brad Stormon since last August and credits his recent improvement to a mental shift. Specifically, he's putting less pressure on himself.

"Before, I was always wanting to play well. Right now, I'm a little bit more low key, just trying to enjoy the tournament and play one shot at a time. That has been the big change," said Zhang, who turned pro in 2014.

"When I play better, I'm more confident and relaxed, so I can just concentrate on playing. When I play bad, I'm so focused on trying to play well that there's too much going on in my head.

"I hope I can continue to do what I'm doing right now and keep the same way of thinking. I just want to calm down and play against the course, not other players or the crowd."

The tag "next big thing" is being increasingly used to describe Zhang thanks to his impressive results over the past nine months, including victory at a lucrative pro-am in Fujian province last November and top-10 finishes at three other events.

After a slow start to this year's PGA Tour Series-China with two missed cuts in March, in May he tied for 11th at the Changsha Championship-won by Saxon-and for 37th at the rain-shortened Haikou Championship.

At last week's Guilin Championship, he led outright after 54 holes before finishing one shot behind Saxon, the order of merit leader who is full of praise for his young rival.

"I played a couple times with him in 2016 and you could tell he had a lot of talent, but he was very raw," Saxon said.

"It's amazing to see the strides he's made in two years. He's a pure ball striker, an excellent putter and he's a great competitor. He's got a bright future."

Cao Yi, Zhang's former national teammate, is another local favorite this week and another fan of Yulongwan, where he tied for sixth and finished fourth in the tour's previous visits in 2015 and 2016.

"I have a bit of an advantage because I've done well here for a couple of years," said Cao, who won the Chongqing Championship in March and currently sits fourth on the order of merit.

"The course conditions suited me because everything was pretty soft, like it will be this week.

"The greens are undulating and you don't want to miss in the wrong spot, so when my wedge game's pretty sharp I can do well here.

"The conditions will be soft this week, so hopefully I can play well again."

The 27-year-old estimated the course's lofty altitude "adds 10 or 15 percent to your distance" and in 2016 he even drove the green on the 422-yard, par-4 18th to close with a birdie.

"I have a lot of favorite holes on this course because the views are just so beautiful, but if I have to choose one, it's 18," said Cao.

"It's rare you play a hole with that much of a drop in elevation from tee to green.

"It's a fun hole."


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