China's Dou blazes path, breaks through
July 31, 2017
By Laury Livsey, PGATOUR.COM
- With his win at the Web.com Tour's Digital Ally Open, Zecheng Dou becomes the first Chinese-born player to earn a PGA TOUR card.
In This Article
The crowd quietly applauded as Sam Chien putted out to win the 2014 Buick Open at Dragon Lake Golf Club in Guangzhou, China. Golf is a gentlemen’s sport, and the assembled crowd was nothing if not polite. What the fans couldn’t do is hide their disappointment. The amateur came close, but he couldn’t quite catch the older, more-experienced Chien.
“I knew who they were cheering for, and I totally get that,” said Chien. “They wanted their guy to win.”
“Their guy” was 17-year-old Zecheng Dou, a native of Henan and clearly the fan favorite at the PGA TOUR China Series’ event. On a warm Sunday in May in Southern China, Dou, who had created a reputation for himself in the United States playing American Junior Golf Association tournaments under the English name Marty, was hard to forget. He was 17 but looked like he was 12. He might have weighed 135 pounds (if he had eaten lunch) and it was difficult to miss him on the course, his go-after-it-hard-on-every-shot style just as memorable as his fashion sense, most notably his bucket hat and sunglasses.
Three years later, the hat and shades are gone, as is the amateur status. But the game is still the same—better actually—a lot more refined.
Oh, and Zecheng Dou now knows how to win.
After losing to Chien and then turning pro later that year, Dou returned for a second PGA TOUR China season in 2015, finishing fifth on the Order of Merit but again missing out on an opportunity to win, losing in a playoff to countryman Haimeng Chao at the Nine Dragons Open. Questions began to arise: Could he finish?
That question lingered again at the 2016 PGA TOUR China season-opener in his hometown of Henan, at the St. Andrews Open. With a commanding lead going into the back nine, Dou shot a 4-over 40 to fall into a tie with friend Xinjun Zhang. The two went to a playoff, only this time Dou prevailed in a two-hole overtime session. Things seemed to change after that as the wins previously so hard to come by began coming in bunches.
Two weeks later, in Wuhan, Dou won the United Investment Real Estate Wuhan Open by five shots. Three tournaments later, at the Lanhai Open in Shanghai, Dou finished the third round a stroke behind 54-hole leader Rohan Blizard. Dou, however, never had a chance to chase down Blizard as torrential rain canceled the final round, Blizard taking home the title in the weather-shortened event.
One thing was obvious, though: Dou was making a habit of contending every time he teed it up.
In the next tournament, Dou won his third title of the season at the Nanjing Open, edging Thailand’s Gunn Charoenkul by a shot. Dou’s fourth and final win came on the strength of a third-round 63 that led to a three-stroke win over Charlie Saxon at the Yulongwan Yunnan Open.
“I think once I won that first tournament in Henan, it helped me believe I could win,” said Dou. “I felt like I could win, but I hadn’t been able to. That win, even though I didn’t play very well on the back nine Sunday, gave me a lot of confidence, and I carried it through for the rest of the year.”
Dou completed his Player of the Year season while breaking the single-season PGA TOUR China earnings’ mark and winning more than any other player in history, four wins beating the three Haotong Li recorded in 2014.
So what did Dou do as an encore in his inaugural Web.com Tour tournament earlier this year following his permanent move to the U.S.? He opened with a 12-over 84 at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, amazingly only missing the cut by two strokes (he shot a second-round 73) in a tournament infamous for gusty wind that reached 40 mph the first day and a mere 35 on day two.
“I didn’t play bad that week. But that wind was just crazy,” Dou said. Proving his point, Dou stayed in the Bahamas for The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic the following week, bookended a pair of 67s in the first and final rounds and finished third, four shots behind winner Andrew Landry. At the time, it was the highest finish by a player from China in Web.com Tour history.
Now, Dou once again holds that distinction, and he can thank a third-round 61 for that.
“It was amazing. I did everything perfect. I don’t know what to say,” Dou, ironically, said about his Digital Ally Open third round.
When Sunday began, Dou was tied for sixth, knowing he faced a grueling 36-hole day because of rain that plagued the first round. The 61, on the strength of 10 birdies and no bogeys, gave him a two-stroke advantage over Luke Guthrie with 18 holes to play. Dou toured his second 18 of the day at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in 66 strokes—again bogey-free—and the victory was his.
“I just felt like if I played my best I could win this. I started thinking during the round if I win, what could I get to, but I still want to do better than this. I want to carry this into the rest of the season,” explained Dou.
Like most young players, Dou also went through some rookie-year growing pains.
“I didn’t know if I needed to keep practicing or get more experience on the Web.com Tour instead of trying to get to the PGA TOUR so fast,” added Dou. “I never thought I could win this year. It just happened, and I will take it.”
Prior to his win, Dou was 53rd on the Web.com Tour money list. But his $117,000 payday moved him to No. 13, all but assuring he will earn his 2017-18 PGA TOUR membership. The top-25 players on the Regular Season money list automatically move on to the PGA TOUR.
What him becoming a PGA TOUR member means on the landscape of golf in China is not lost on the 20-year-old. “It’s a big honor to represent China and come play in the United States,” Dou added. “Playing and learning from the best, competing and earning my TOUR card, it feels amazing right now.
It’s going to be pretty big,” Dou continued. “We’ve been talking to the media this year about a Chinese player potentially getting to the PGA TOUR. How soon will they get their card? I just did it here. It just happened.”
Funny thing. There was plenty of cheering among those gathered around the 18th green Sunday at Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate, and it was all directed toward the kid from China.
None of it was polite applause.