A throwaway comment will provide the fuel to drive the dreams of China’s aspiring golfers as the new Korn Ferry Tour season kick-offs with The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay starting on Sunday.
“Now, the goal is to promote golf in China … even if it’s a small contribution. This makes me feel that the past few years, playing golf means something bigger,” said Marty Zecheng Dou, 24.
The young and talented Chinese will be joined by compatriots Xinjun Zhang and Carl Yuan in the Bahamas as the trio carry the nation’s charge on the Korn Ferry Tour this year. The ultimate destination is the PGA Tour, which Zhang and Dou enjoyed brief stints previously. Fifty PGA Tour cards will be at stake on the Korn Ferry Tour.
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Chasing the American dream has meant making sacrifices and being some 11,000 kilometers away from home. As he is based in Dallas, the world of professional golf is sometimes a lonely affair but Dou, who is a two-time winner on the Korn Ferry Tour and a former champion in the Bahamas, is determined he can gain his rewards once more.
“In the previous New Year, I went to a hot pot place for dinner on my own and there were families out to celebrate. The waitress asked why I was alone and at that moment, I thought to myself I’m here to achieve a goal. Without a goal, I wouldn’t want to be here and I would live in China,” said Dou.
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“Everything we do here is because of golf. We’re competing on Tour, trying to make a living, and all these factors weigh on our minds. The added stress means we are starting further back than the others. That’s why having friends (like Yuan and Zhang) is important as they give me a different perspective on things and teach me a lot.”
Dou grew up as a phenom in the game, winning four times on PGA TOUR China Series in 2016 while still in his teens en route to lifting the Order of Merit title. He went on to become the first mainland Chinese to win on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2017 which earned him a PGA Tour card for the following season. His dream was short-lived as he struggled to find his footing against the stars of the game.
“Those early years went very smoothly,” reflected Dou. “The year I got onto the PGA TOUR, the roller coaster began. For all kinds of reason, I wasn’t ready to be on TOUR. I didn’t play well and lost my card. I had to go back to the Korn Ferry Tour to start over.”
Working with renowned swing guru, Cameron McCormick, who also coaches the likes of Jordan Spieth and Daniel Berger, has been beneficial and the biggest takeaway has been the realisation he needs to look forward in the game to improve.
“There was something I have been thinking a lot … My game and skills have improved so much, but why can’t I play explosively like when I was younger?” Dou said. “I used to compare my swing to those times when I played really well, to try and regain that feeling. Then I figured you just can’t solve problems this way. You want to go back to the old days but you are not that person anymore, physically or mentally.
“Since I came over to the U.S., the most helpful person has been my coach. He’s the first person I turn to for help for anything related to golf. He’s worked with world-class players and he inspires me in problem-solving. He tells me not to compare myself to the old days and current issues require updated solutions.”
He knows he represents millions of Chinese whenever he tees the ball up, and hopes to find a way back onto the PGA Tour and contend for wins. No mainland Chinese has won on the PGA Tour.
“When I was young, my goal was to beat my peers. The moment I turned pro, playing golf became my job and making a living for myself and family. Now, the goal is to promote golf in China. For the upcoming season, I want to set my mind right and play with my best mindset,” he said.