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Yuan puts PGA ambitions on hold for Olympic duty

China Daily | Updated: 2021-06-24 09:23
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Carl Yuan Yechun, pictured tracking a shot during the Korn Ferry Tour's Visit Knoxville Open in Tennessee on May 14, will represent China at the Tokyo Olympic Games next month. [GETTY IMAGES]

Young putter speaks of 'huge honor and responsibility' to represent China

China's rising star Carl Yuan Yechun is thrilled he will compete in his first Olympic Games in Tokyo next month-even if it means putting his PGA Tour aspirations on hold.

The 24-year-old Yuan will be joined by compatriot Wu Ashun at the Kasumigaseki Country Club from July 29 to Aug 1 after the list of 60 men's qualifiers was published by the International Golf Federation on Tuesday.

"It means a lot for me to represent my country in the Olympics," said Yuan.

"It has always been one of my goals to be an Olympian and I am glad it came true. Watching the national flag being raised and singing the national anthem means everything to an athlete, and I have been touched when I watched that moment on TV."

Yuan's dream come true, however, comes with a caveat-he must put his chase for a PGA Tour card on hold for the next month. He is currently ranked 27th on the Korn Ferry Tour points list, with the top 25 players at the end of the regular season in August graduating onto the PGA Tour. Another 25 PGA Tour cards will be available in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, comprising three tournaments.

Yuan is flying back to China this week to participate in centralized training in Nanshan, Guangdong province. In accordance with China's strict coronavirus controls, he will need to observe mandatory medical quarantine.

His participation in the Tokyo Games will see him miss four Korn Ferry Tour tournaments at a crucial time of the season. However, he believes that his patriotism will be rewarded on two fronts.

"It is not easy to give up some Korn Ferry Tour events while I am on the verge of getting a PGA Tour card. However, it is a huge honor and also my responsibility to represent my country," said Yuan.

"I believe I made the right choice, I have faith to play well in Tokyo and then finish strong in the remainder of the Korn Ferry Tour season. It will all be worth it at the end.

"I will be in quarantine at the China national golf training facility, and I'm going to try and get some workouts done in the room at least. Then, I will work on a game plan to play the golf course in Tokyo."

This year, he established himself as the top-ranked Chinese mainland golfer following a slew of outstanding performances on the Korn Ferry Tour's 2020-21 wraparound season. He has enjoyed three runner-up finishes and four other top-20s, and hopes to carry his good form to Tokyo.

"For sure there is some pressure, but that motivates me even more. I know I have the full support from my country and people, and that will drive me to play the best I can. My goal is to get a medal for China," said Yuan, who qualified as the 57th-ranked golfer in the list of qualifiers.

"I played at Kasumigaseki in 2019 and I had a very good impression of that golf course. I like the design although it is a challenging layout. After the Olympics, I will head back to the US to play in the last two Korn Ferry Tour regular-season events. I still have the opportunity to gain my PGA Tour card. I will do my best."

The 36-year-old Wu, who is a three-time European Tour winner and two-time winner in Japan, will feature in his second Olympic Games after finishing tied-30th in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. He is looking forward to another crack at winning a medal in Tokyo.

"I am very excited. I have played regularly in tournaments and conquered many challenges. It is good that my efforts have not been in vain. I am thrilled to see my name on the list of 60 players at the very last moment," said Wu, who qualified in 59th spot.

"Now that I'm back in China, I will take some time to recover, adjust and prepare for the Olympics. I have set plans to prepare myself and I hope I will be in good shape for the Olympics. My goal will be to see China's flag being raised at the golf course with the national anthem being played."

The top-15 world-ranked players are eligible for the Olympics, with a limit of four players from a given country or region. Beyond the top 15, players are eligible based on the world rankings, with a maximum of two eligible players from each country or region that does not already have two or more players among the top 15. The host country is guaranteed a spot, as is each of the five continents of the Olympics.

The women's rankings will be finalized after this week's Women's PGA Championship.

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