Peasant farmer’s son to China’s golfing No. 1
By Don Riddell
Most top golfers were inspired to pick up
clubs by the leading names of the generation before
them. But China’s current No. 1 player has a very
In fact, Liang Wen-chong was completely unaware of
legendary champions such as Bernhard Langer and Greg
Norman when he was first exposed to the game in the
Back then, he was a peasant farmer’s son in
Guangdong province, and he’d only ever seen a
cartoon character playing golf.
“I was just a kid from the countryside,” Liang told
CNN’s Living Golf. “I didn’t know any of the rules
and I didn’t know you could have a career in it.”
Golf was banned by Mao Tse-tung when his communist
regime took over in 1949, and it was not deemed to
be an acceptable sport until the 1980s.
As fate would have it, the first golf course in
modern China was built on Liang’s doorstep, and the
local golf association was looking for players.
Initially, the 15-year-old was picked because he was
keen and well-behaved. He made his own wooden clubs
and woke at 5 a.m. to practice before school.
“Not even rain and storms could stop him from
playing, and when everyone else thought it was too
hot and couldn’t bear it, he was still practicing
outside alone,” his mother Jiefang Lu said.
Liang was in love with the game, but it was also a
way out. If not for golf, he would almost certainly
have been tilling the fields like his father or
working in a factory -- the family could not have
afforded a university education.
But within a few years of those first schoolyard
lessons, Liang had turned professional and banked
enough prize-money to rebuild his parents’ cramped
and dingy cottage into a gleaming four-storey family
home. He has since donated some of his winnings to a
golf foundation so that others can have the same
chance he did.
Surfing the wave
Golf was about to boom in China, and Liang was in
exactly the right place at the right time.
In 1993 he was considered to be in China’s second
wave of golfers; today the fourth or fifth
generations are earning their stripes. Within barely
two decades, the types -- and the numbers -- of
Chinese golfers have changed dramatically.
The first players worked on the courses, while the
second were from the paddy fields. The third
generation were born into money and likely raised on
courses that their parents owned.
The fourth and fifth wave are the children of
golfers who are learning the game and competing in a
national structure. It is these players who will
have the opportunity to compete internationally on a
level playing field and in great numbers, thanks to
the wealth of their parents.
Lucy Shi Yuting is a 12-year-old golfer from
Shanghai. She’s three years younger than Liang when
he first discovered the game, and already she seems
destined for greatness. She looks diminutive, sweet
and innocent, but has an iron handshake and is
absolutely deadly on the course.
In the final of October’s HSBC National Junior
Championship, Shi Yuting thrashed the field in her
age group by a whopping 12 strokes and then took on
an older girl in a playoff, whereupon she calmly
avenged a defeat from the previous year. That gave
her a place in the Shanghai pro-am, at which she
matched American star Phil Mickelson and beat
Australia’s former top-10 player Adam Scott over a
Dreams of America
Her coach, Scotland’s Mike Dickie, expects his
prodigy to end up on the U.S.-based LPGA Tour.
“She’s got a great swing but she has a very calm
persona, that’s her ultimate strength,” he said.
“She’s just finished third in a China LPGA
tournament, so if she can do that at 12, what’s she
going to be doing when she’s 22?”
Shi Yuting trains for three to four hours every day,
and is absolutely focused on making it big.
“I hope to become an LPGA player but in China,
players have to be 20 years old before they turn
professional. Maybe I’ll fulfill my goal after I
represent China at the Olympic Games.”
The reintroduction of golf as an Olympic sport in
Brazil in 2016 is another reason why China is
expected to produce legions of top golfers, as the
government will have a vested interest in backing
Dickie believes the students from his academy in
Shanghai and elsewhere in China will soon be heading
for the United States or Scotland and returning with
the Green Jackets and Claret Jugs of major
Right now, the 32-year-old Liang is flying the flag
on his own -- he’s the only Chinese player in the
world’s top 100. He can feel the charge of China’s
youth behind him, having helped fund some of them,
but he believes his best days are still ahead of
A major goal
While lacking a role model in the early days, he now
looks up to the likes of Irishman Padraig
Harrington, South Korea’s Y.E. Yang and American
Mark O’Meara -- golfers who were older than him
before winning their first major trophy.
He has every right to dream. In August, Liang fired
an eight-under-par 64 in his third round at the PGA
Championship to break the course record at the
treacherous Whistling Straits.
Liang has a grounded and unassuming nature, and he
was oblivious of his impending achievement. The
first he, or his team, were aware of the feat was
when he was lining up his final putt.
“If he makes this, we’ll need him in the interview
tent,” Liang’s agent was told. “Why?” was the
innocent response -- and soon the tournament
organizers were desperately hunting for suitable
He struggled home with a 73 in the final round, but
still finished in a highly creditable eighth place,
well ahead of top stars including Mickelson, Tiger
Woods and Jim Furyk.
Liang is now eyeing up a move to the United States,
but nothing comes easy for a player of his
background and generation. He admits it will be
tough on his young family, and jokes about building
an entourage -- so familiar to every other top
player in the world.
“I’d love to get a mind coach,” he told me over
lunch in his clubhouse. “Do you happen to know any
that speak Chinese!”
That’s an indication of how fast Chinese golf has
developed and how far it still has to go.
But the world’s top golf psychologists, caddies and
fitness coaches might want to consider learning
Mandarin or Cantonese -- they could soon be getting
an awful lot of work. – [CNN]
|Hurley planning romantic New
Year with Warne
MELBOURNE: Liz Hurley,
who has revealed that she and her multi-millionaire
husband Arun Nayar had split months ago, is planning
a romantic rendezvous in Sydney with Shane Warne.
Hurley is expected to arrive Down Under before New
Year’s Eve if a deal can be finalised.
Warne’s new talk show’s production team has been
working to get the British glamour and cricket
tragic for the fifth Test at the SCG from January 3.
Hurley is a global advocate of breast cancer
awareness and is keen to promote the Pink Test,
which supports the Jane McGrath Foundation.
News of the reunion plans came as Warne confirmed on
his website that his on-off relationship with
ex-wife Simone Callahan, the mother of his three
children, was over.
“Sadly and unfortunately, Simone and I split up a
while ago. It is a private matter so we did not make
it public. We remain friends,” Warne was quoted as
saying. – [ANI]
|Wish Gibbs had the discipline
of Steve Waugh: Ali Bacher
|NEW DELHI: Herschelle Gibbs and Makhaya Nitini
may have been two of the most fascinating cricketers
to have played for South Africa but were contrasting
characters, feels former South African cricket board
boss Dr Ali Bacher.
“Herschelle is one of the most talented cricketers
to have ever played for South Africa. If he had the
dedication, determination and discipline of Steve
Waugh, he would have been one of the game’s greats,”
Bacher said on the sidelines of the RSD World
Cricket Summit organised in memory of the late Raj
“He was a phenomenal talent but then people in South
Africa are not surprised with his shocking
revelations because they know that’s how Herschelle
is,” he added.
Talking about Ntini, Bacher was a touch emotional.
“Considering the humble background from which
Makhaya came, he has achieved a lot. He became one
of the finest fast bowlers of his generation. He was
an epitome of hard work and dedication. Not only for
the black cricketers but also for the white South
Africans. He was a totally contrasting character
from Herschelle,” Bacher said.
As the discussion veered towards cricket
administration, the former United Cricket Board of
South Africa (now Cricket South Africa) president
welcomed former Indian captain Anil Kumble’s entry
into cricket administration.
“It’s nice to know that people like Kumble, Javagal
Srinath have entered cricket administration. It’s
good for the game. Kumble is one of the finest
gentlemen to have graced the cricket field. He is
knowledgeable, sober, educated and will certainly
make a difference,” stated Bacher
Bacher, during whose tenure India first toured the
Rainbow Nation in 1991-92, feels that the upcoming
series will be an exciting one considering both the
teams have some world class batsmen.
“If you have (Graeme) Smith, (Jacques) Kallis and
(Hashim) Amla on one side and (Rahul) Dravid and
(VVS) Laxman on the other hand, you can expect a
great contest,” Bacher said.
“I don’t believe that only fast bowlers will win you
Test matches in South Africa. If you look at the
England vs South Africa series, it was off-spinner
Graeme Swann who emerged as the best bowler,” he
said. – [PTI]
|2011 F1 champ to be crowned in
CHENNAI: It could be Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso
or even Michael Schumacher. If one of these stars
become the F1 champion next year he will be
remembering New Delhi for the rest of his life as
the 2011 season-ending big bash of international
motorsport will be held in the capital in December
India is fast becoming the preferred destination for
the hottest events in the world of motorsport. With
the Indian GP set to make its debut in the Formula
One calendar next year and FIM checking out
prospects for a MotoGP race in 2012, the country is
clearly in the spotlight.
And it seems the fun is just beginning as New Delhi
will hog the limelight usually reserved for the
‘playground of the rich’ (Monte Carlo). The capital
will host the most glamorous event of them all --
the (FIA) Gala Awards. – [TNN]
|Brazil’s World Cup heroes swap
football for politics
By Helen Chandler
When one of Brazil’s newly-elected congressmen rose
to give their victory address, his speech was
delivered with all the confidence of a political
“The 150,000 people who believed in me can rest
assured that I will become a great politician,” he
told Brazil’s Globo TV network.
But the man elected as a federal deputy in Rio de
Janeiro was anything but the stereotypical
statesman. It was, in fact, Romario, one of Brazil’s
most feted and controversial footballing legends who
helped his nation win the 1994 World Cup.
The former Barcelona striker is now a member of the
Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB) and, despite having
relatively little political experience, won a seat
in the country’s lower congress with the
sixth-highest number of votes in the city.
If that was not unusual enough, Romario’s former
international teammate Bebeto has also completed the
move from pitch to politics in the South American
nation’s most recent elections, securing 30,000
votes for the governing Democratic Workers’ Party
(PDT) and a place in Rio’s state legislature.
The pair are heroes for many Brazilians, with the
so-called “Diabolical Duo” having helped to secure
the country’s fourth world title at the 1994 finals
in the U.S.
And they are just two of the new wave of politicians
who have been elected in Brazil, including the
country’s newly-appointed President Dilma Rousseff.
Both have said they want to improve participation in
sport as well as the lot of the poor in their
country, and voters seem willing to back the
unconventional politicians despite their lack of
“Romario and Bebeto made a big number of fans during
their career, and for many they are idols. They did
well in the soccer fields and won many championships
-- so why not give them a chance to become
politicians?” said Julio Sobral, a voter from Sao
“The population are tired of the same old story:
professional politicians promise lots during the
campaign, then never deliver.”
But Mariana Menezez, another voter from Sao Paulo,
disagrees and describes the situation in Brazil,
where voting is compulsory and many unusual
candidates are often elected, as “embarrassing for
Brazilians that take the elections seriously.”
“Romario and Bebeto are very popular footballers, so
most people don’t even care about their proposals --
their popularity is enough,” she said.
Simon Kuper, football author and sports columnist
for British newspaper The Financial Times, believes
that the reason such former players are elected
without any experience is because voters can relate
to them in a way they cannot with career
“Footballers have not historically got into politics
because they are not often educated -- Romario is
not educated but he is associated with the poor as
he came from a poor background himself,” Kuper told
“Even before he decided to become a politician he
had said he wanted to help the poor and many people
identify with that.”
It is this perceived connection with the poor that
perhaps explains the allure of footballers who turn
to politics. Many have tried with varying degrees of
Despite being raised in the slums of Liberia’s
capital Monrovia, George Weah -- a national hero
following a career that saw him play for AC Milan
and Chelsea, as well as becoming the first and only
African winner of FIFA’s World Player of the Year
award -- was very nearly elected president of the
African nation in 2005.
George Brock, a former International editor of
British newspaper The Times, thinks the political
climate in developing countries like Brazil also
contributes to footballers and other candidates from
the world of sport being voted into office.
“Some political systems have existed unchanged for
decades and insist that candidates have years of
experience, so it wouldn’t happen as easily there,”
Brock told CNN.
“In Brazil the political parties have been shaken up
over the last few years by the victories of former
president [Luiz Inacio] Lula [da Silva]. They are
not as well entrenched so it allows different
candidates to get in.”
But Brock also believes that those sports
personalities can compete against more sophisticated
and experienced rivals because they gained their
popularity outside the political sphere.
“Coming from outside the political class works as an
advantage. Those that are extremely well-known have
an enormous advantage as they don’t have to
“You have to show some aptitude to get there though
-- lots of famous people decide they want to be
involved in politics but then they realize that they
aren’t suited to it.”
Yet the career move is common among footballers.
Romario and Bebeto are following in the footsteps of
Pele, arguably football’s greatest star, who was
Brazil’s Minister of Sport.
Other footballers who have enjoyed notable political
careers include Albert Gudmundsson, the first
professional footballer from Iceland, who in the
1980s served as his country’s minister of finance
and minister of industry.
Kaj Leo Johannesen of the Faroe Island’s also
succeeded in swapping football for political office.
The current prime minister of the Danish autonomous
region enjoyed a 15-year career as a goalkeeper from
1986 until 2001, representing his country four
Elsewhere, Gianni Rivera, the former AC Milan and
Italy player, is currently a member of the European
Parliament while Tottenham Hotspur’s Russian forward
Roman Pavlyuchenko won a seat in regional council
elections representing Vladimir Putin’s United
Russia party in 2008.
Back in Brazil, only time will tell whether the duo
of Romario and Bebeto can enjoy the same success in
politics as they did on the football pitch. The
ever-confident Romario certainly has every belief he
will score as many goals in politics as he did for
his former football teams.
“I’m still learning the trade. I’m not a full
politician but I was the best in my profession and
was always under pressure. Now it’s the same thing,
but in a different area. The people can rest assured
I will score a lot of goals in Brazil.”