SHANGHAI: Emerging star Li Haotong wrote his name in the history books and underlined his prodigious talent as he became the first Chinese men’s golfer to claim a spot in the world top 50.
Li surged from 60th to 32nd in the rankings thanks to a thrilling victory at the Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday and highlights China’s growing prowess in a sport that was banned under Mao Zedong because he considered it too bourgeois.
The European Tour said Li was the youngest player inside the top 50 and the 22-year-old now has his sights set on April’s Masters after qualifying with his impressive third-place finish at last year’s British Open.
Li upstaged four-time major winner Rory McIlroy in Dubai for his second European Tour title — his maiden win was on home soil in the 2016 China Open.
Speaking after his latest and biggest win to date, Li said that he expected the reaction in China “to be big”.
His ascension to the higher echelons of the world rankings did not go unnoticed among the golfing fraternity.
Veteran Englishman Ian Poulter, writing on Twitter, hailed Li’s “incredible scoring and performance” in trumping McIlroy in Dubai.
“Moving inside the Top 50 is a big deal and first (Chinese) player to do so. Well done,” he tweeted.
And Justin Rose, the Rio Olympic gold medallist, also recognized the wider significance of Li’s breakthrough, congratulating “my mate” and using the hashtag BrilliantForTheGame.
But Li still has some way to go to match compatriot Feng Shanshan, a major winner and the world’s No.1 ranked women’s golfer since November.
However, China’s men are coming up fast and the country has two players, Dou Zecheng and Zhang Xinjun, now on the US PGA Tour.