TIANJIN, CHINA (AP) - First the Masters at age 14. Now the European Tour at 12.
When Ye Wo-cheng tees off at the China Open on Thursday, he’ll be the youngest in a European Tour event at 12 years, 242 days.
He’s following in the footsteps of Guan Tianlang, who made history last month when he became the youngest to compete in the Masters at 14. He also made the cut, despite a one-stroke penalty for slow play in the second round of the Masters.
The Dongguan schoolboy will be 287 days younger than Guan, who was 13 years, 177 days when he competed in last year’s China Open.
He’s the latest young Chinese player making his way to the world stage at Binhai Lake club, 65 miles south east of Beijing.
Also in the field is 14-year-old Andy Zhang, the youngest to play in the U.S. Open last year. He’s joined by Bai Zheng-kai, 15, last year’s winner of the China Junior Matchplay Championship, Dou Ze-cheng, 16, and Jim Liu, the youngest winner of the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2010 at 14.
Ye qualified for the China Open with his father on the bag, rallying from a late double bogey to secure the last of four qualifying places.
“Ye’s ability to listen and respond is way above the norm,” said his coach, Englishman David Watson. “At the moment, I don’t believe that Ye has too many rivals of the same age. He often wins in higher age groups, but at the same time, I know it is dangerous to speculate and we must realize he is just a 12-year-old boy.”
Watson was the former amateur coach to Ryder Cup stars Lee Westwood and Justin Rose. He currently works with the Chinese youth golf program.
Despite his age, Ye has already enjoyed impressive international victories, including success in the 2010 and 2011 U.S. Kids World Championship. Last year, he was runner-up, and holds the tournament record of 12-under par, lowering the previous record by Tiger Woods. This year, Ye captured the Guangdong Junior Championship by a record 18 strokes.
South African Branden Grace returns as defending champion. The 24-year-old Grace is looking forward to watching Ye perform.
“It’s just amazing because when I look back, I only started playing golf when I was 11,” Grace said. “I don’t want even know what handicap I had when I was 12.
“I spoke to his coach yesterday just to learn a bit of his background, but he tells me he just seems to win all the junior events around at the moment. He’s also apparently a long hitter and looking at him, he’s quite a big kid for 12.”