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China’s up and coming golfer Dou Zecheng

KUALA LUMPUR: Such is his attitude towards life that Dou Zecheng is the kind of athlete who looks at his golf ball as being in the middle of the fairway rather than in an unlucky divot after unleashing a perfectly executed drive.

The young China rising star has been to golfing heaven and back over the past three seasons that he remains unfazed and undeterred after narrowly missing out on a quick return to the PGA TOUR via the Korn Ferry Tour last season.

The 23-year-old finished 28th in the Korn Ferry Tour Regular Season points list, which was an agonizing three rungs outside the top-25 which rewards players with PGA TOUR cards for the 2019-20 Season.

What may have stung him more was the fact that he won the season-opening tournament, The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay, and sat comfortably inside the top-25 for most of the season.

Inexplicably, from the joy of winning his second Korn Ferry Tour title, Dou’s fortunes took a dip where he missed 15 cuts over his next 23 starts and subsequently missed out on a PGA TOUR card which he held in 2018. He had secured entry into the world’s premier tour then through the Korn Ferry Tour back in 2017.

“A lot of media has been asking me the same question,” said Dou.

“Although it was up-and-down, I see it as a successful year. I didn’t see it as a failure although I ended up not getting the (PGA TOUR) card. If I didn’t play good (win) in Bahamas, I could have been back playing in China as I didn’t have full exempt on the Korn Ferry Tour. Winning was a good thing.”

Dou is prepared to continue the grind on the Korn Ferry Tour which he feels is a great platform to help make him a more complete golfer. When he played on the PGA TOUR in 2018 which he made only four cuts from 23 starts, he knew he just wasn’t good enough to compete at the highest level.

“I don’t want it to happen so fast. If I get my card back, it’s like maybe too fast. I want to take it slowly and this might be good for me. Maybe slow and steady wins the race,” he said.

After the dust settled down last year, Dou reviewed all the hard work he put in with coach Cameron McCormick, who also teaches Jordan Spieth. He gave himself full marks for staying the course with his routine and work ethics.

“When I played on the PGA TOUR, I didn’t spend enough time doing what I needed to do. And then coming out with a win in early 2019, I kept working hard and focused on my fitness. I might play around 20 events in 2020 and see how it works out. I played a lot in 2019 and at one stretch played 14 of 15 weeks and maybe that got to me.”

Dou believes his association with McCormick, where they are both based in Dallas, will help transform him into the kind of golfer he wants to become. “He introduced this fitness programme which I now go to the gym three times a week. My body started feeling really good and we’re making changes in my game, focusing on my swing plane with the aim of creating more consistency with my ball striking and putting.

“I see Cameron once a week now which is good and there’s not a day at home (in Dallas) where I don’t have anything to do. I’m always working on something, trying to get better all the time.”

He is eager to start this year’s Korn Ferry Tour campaign on a strong note with his defence at the Bahamas. “I feel good with my game. I finished second twice on the China Tour (towards the end of last year) and I had three good rounds at the WGC-HSBC Champions. I feel confident about getting my PGA TOUR card,” he said.

While Dou is living the American dream, he admitted that being away from China and his family offers different challenges. “Living in Dallas – golf is the biggest thing. There are good courses, good coaches, good players around you which is big. However, being Chinese out here (in the U.S.), the hard part is you think about your family all the time. It can be tough if you’re not doing well and it can get hard.”

* Chuah Choo Chiang is senior director, communications of the PGA TOUR and is based in Kuala Lumpur.

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