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Li raring to make most of Melbourne matchup

By Yang Xinwei | China Daily | Updated: 2019-12-04 09:23
Li Haotong, pictured in action at The Memorial Tournament in Ohio in June, will become the first Chinese mainland golfer to play in the Presidents Cup when he tees off for the Ernie Els-captained International Team. GETTY IMAGES

International Team star determined to do China proud at Presidents Cup

Li Haotong says he will be bursting with pride when he becomes the first Chinese mainland golfer to play in the Presidents Cup next week.

The 24-year-old is part of the Ernie Els-captained International Team bidding to interrupt American dominance of the biennial event by beating the Tiger Woods-led United States Team in Australia from Dec 9-15.

Li is raring to showcase Chinese golf to the world at Royal Melbourne - the scene of the Internationals' solitary Presidents Cup victory in 1998 - and is also dreaming of the day his own country might be host. Since the event began in 1994, South Korea remains the only Asian nation to stage the tournament, in 2015.

"As Chinese golfers, it is our responsibility and obligation to promote Chinese golf to the world and I'm proud to be one of them. I think we should try hard with better performances to show Chinese golf," said Li.

"I think such events will help promote Chinese golf a lot. I'm looking forward to having the Presidents Cup in China one day. Chinese golf should be impacted positively."

A two-time European Tour winner, Li qualified automatically as one of the top eight players for Els' 12-man squad and is determined to produce a memorable debut.

"Everyone in the team must play as best as we can. Then we may have a chance to win. It definitely means a lot to me to be on this team," said Li.

"I was quite close to being on the team in the last edition. I feel I put in a lot of effort to get into this team. I just want to go there and show my golf to the world."

Li initially shot to prominence by winning the inaugural PGA Tour Series-China order of merit title in 2014 and has since blossomed into a leading international star, ranked 64th in the world.

One of his most memorable triumphs came at the 2018 Dubai Desert Classic, where he defeated four-time major champion Rory McIlroy with a final-hole birdie after battling head-to-head in the closing round.

The Presidents Cup is a matchplay event, and Li is certainly no slouch in that format either.

Earlier this year, the tenacious Chinese overcame Ryder Cup star Alex Noren and world No 1 Brooks Koepka to reach the knockout phase of the World Golf Championships Match Play in Austin, Texas. Representing Asia at the 2018 Eur-Asia Cup in Malaysia, Li was unbeaten in three matches, owning a 2-0-1 record.

Li has forged a close friendship with South African legend Els, whom he played with in the final round of the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale, where the then-unheralded Chinese announced himself to the world by closing with a final-round 63 to finish third - his best result to date in a major.

"Ernie is a very special person to me personally. He has a lot of experience and I can learn a lot of great things from him. It's my honor to be part of his team," said Li.

"Hopefully I can get some points, especially against Tiger and the best golfers in the world. I'm very excited to get there. To be fair, our team is not as strong as the US Team. So we just want to play our best and hopefully beat them."

With CT Pan of Chinese Taipei also making his debut for the Internationals, there is every likelihood that Li and Pan will be paired by Els in either the four-ball or foursome sessions.

Li is looking forward to returning to Melbourne where he received plenty of local support when China finished joint second at the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf in 2016.

"I have talked a lot with CT during tournaments. It would be great (to play together)," he said. "I've been there a couple of times and I just want to be back again. It will be incredible for sure and the people will support us."

Charity

The Presidents Cup is a unique golf event in that there is no purse or prize money. Players are not paid for their participation, but each competitor allocates an equal portion of the funds generated to charities of his choice.

Since the event's inception, more than $49.1 million has been raised for charity from event proceeds, as well as contributions made on behalf of the tournament, including a record donation of $10.7 million from the 2017 event alone.

To purchase tickets to the Presidents Cup or learn more about travel packages, please visit PresidentsCup.com.

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