Li putts doubts behind him with emotional win

CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2022-06-28 09:25
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Li Haotong of China celebrates with his caddie after defeating Thomas Pieters of Belgium on the first playoff hole to win the BMW International Open in Munich, Germany, on Sunday. GETTY IMAGES

Chinese star elated after overcoming struggles that nearly ended his career

Li Haotong's emotional celebrations showed just how much ending a four-year title drought meant to him on Sunday. The 26-year-old leapt around the green in delight after beating Thomas Pieters on the first playoff hole at the BMW International Open in Munich before sinking to his knees with his head in his hands, masking tears of joy.

Afterward, Li explained exactly why the win-his third career victory on the DP World Tour-had elicited such excitement from his usually composed self.

"Ten months ago ... I just literally decided to quit golf. Somehow, where I am now, it's hard to describe," said Li, who finished with a 22-under total. "I had no idea I could win this playoff. Luckily, things happened for me again.

"I never thought that one day I would have a trophy in my hands again. It's a dream come true."

Five years ago, Li burst onto the international scene with a third-place finish at the 2017 British Open. His upward trajectory continued the following year when he bagged his second victory on the DP World Tour, then known as the European Tour, by beating four-time major winner Rory McIlroy at the Dubai Desert Classic.

It seemed Li was destined for even greater feats when he became the first Chinese player to crack the men's top 50 in the world rankings.

However, things didn't quite go according to plan. With his momentum interrupted by the pause in competition caused by the pandemic, Li missed the cut in 13 of his 16 tournament appearances last year. His joint-14th place finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October was his only top-60 result of the season. At his lowest position during 2021, he was ranked 542nd in the world.

However, there were signs of recovery early this year as Li managed two top-six outings in February and April. He was in scintillating form last week at Golfclub Munchen Eichenried where he began with a course-record 62 before completing his wire-to-wire triumph on Sunday.

"No one knows how much I have gone through over the last couple of years," said Li.

"Ten months ago I nearly decided to not play golf. I thought I couldn't play golf again. Ten months later, right now, holding a trophy. If someone told me 10 months ago I would win again, I wouldn't believe that.

"I didn't realize I could be that emotional. Maybe just because I never thought golf could be that tough.

"Through a lot of tough times, I realized how good that feeling is to play good again."

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