Yuan has put country above self by committing to the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 starting at Kasumigaseki Country Club on Thursday which has dampened his hopes of graduating from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour this year.
Along with compatriot Ashun Wu, who is making his second Olympic appearance, the 24-year-old Yuan said he would not have passed up the chance to don the Chinese flag this week. “We play week to week but this is probably the most excited and nervous I’ve ever been,” he said.
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“I am normally playing for myself but this is for all the people in my country who are behind me and supporting me. Wearing this flag, I’m ready to show the world who we are. We started the game late but I have the faith that if there’s anybody who can do it , we can,” said Yuan.
While Chinese female golfer, Shanshan Feng had delivered a bronze medal in Rio five years, Yuan reckons another podium finish by either himself or Wu, a three-time European Tour winner, will create a renewed push for golf to attract new players and fans in China.
“It would be revolutionary to our industry in China and will give a lot of hope to our generation as well that we can play great in this game, that we can compete against the Europeans and Americans,” said Yuan. “If we put in the hard work, it’s possible it can be done by a Chinese. A lot more people would be interested in playing our sport and it would be well known with a lot more people.”
In order to fulfil his national duty, Yuan needed to return to China for centralised training at the end of June which meant missing a bunch of tournaments on the Korn Ferry Tour. He was ranked just outside the Top-25 which is the cut off point for players to earn PGA Tour cards from the Regular Season.
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“I probably have to miss the rest of the season. There is some sacrifice that had to be done. Being able to do this for my country which happens once in every four years, it’s one of a kind experience. I’ll never regret doing this,” said Yuan.
“I’ll probably try some Monday qualifying on the PGA Tour or hopefully get some exemptions before the Korn Ferry starts again next year.”
So far this week, Yuan has enjoyed experiences that money cannot buy. This includes being part of Team China’s contingent who marched out in the opening ceremony on Saturday night. “This is something I’ve not experienced before. I’ve played in the Asian Games but this is different. Being able to attend and march in the opening ceremony with my team was pretty amazing,” he said.
“Being seen on TV by millions of people, being one of the athletes in this greatest sports meet, it gives me confidence in what I’ve been doing and it means a tremendous amount to me. Being able to play in this field with the best 60 players in the world, it shows a lot about how much I have put in to get to this point. I’m just excited to get the week started.”
Growing up in Dalian, Yuan learned to play the sport at the age of nine due to his father’s influence before moving to the U.S. when he was 14 to attend high school. It was then that his passion for the game grew that he decided it would be a career pathway for him. His journey is also helped by the fact that his wife, Ying Luo, is also a professional golfer. They met in college where Yuan attended the University of Washington and says she has been a pillar of support as he chases his golf dreams.
He expects scoring at Kasumigaseki’s East course to be low this week.
“The course is a great challenge. There are lots of trees and the rough is pretty heavy. If you don’t hit it to the right spot, it’ll be a challenge to even have a two putt. It’s a great ball-strikers’ golf course, and you need to hit a lot of fairways and greens and capitalise on your chances when you have those 20 feet putts. It can be tough too when it gets windy,” said Yuan.
“We’ve got the best players in the world and I’d imagine a few will go low. I’ve got to play my own game and take my chances on the easier hole. I’m feeling pretty good with my game and have a good strategy on how to attack this place.”
Text courtesy: IGF/PGA Tour