Haotong Li
Haotong Li, a former winner of Omega Dubai Desert Classic, wants to finish the season on a high. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News Archive

Shenzhen: Former champion Haotong Li will be looking to end a disappointing year on a high when he tees up at the 27th Volvo China Open at Genzon Golf Club in Shenzhen on Thursday, the opening day of China’s National Open Golf Championship.

A two-time winner on the DP World Tour - formerly the European Tour - 26-year-old Li is the highest-profile player in the 108-strong field for an event, for the second consecutive year because of the global pandemic sanctioned solely by the China Tour

But if he is to bounce back to winning ways, China’s most popular player will have to do so without the vocal backing of his supporters as this year’s event will be played behind closed doors.

“To be frank, everyone knows I didn’t play well this year, and of course there was the pandemic,” said Li who just three years ago enjoyed the biggest victory of his career at the Dubai Desert Classic. It was his second European Tour win and saw him become the first male Chinese golfer to break into the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking.

“I think there are many opportunities I haven’t grasped and if I could turn back the clock, I think I would grasp them better. I have many goals but it takes a lot of hard work. I think 2021 was a good transition year and I’ve learned a lot.”

As for his chances of winning a second Volvo China Open, he added: “I think Shenzhen is a blessed place for me as I almost won the first European tour event here in 2015. I like the course very much - it is first-class from hotel to people to management - so I’m grateful for the opportunity to come back here. The target is to play well and strive to improve my ranking in 2022.”

Li is one of three former champions in the field. Current China Tour Money List leader Zhang Huilin will be looking to become the first player to successfully defend the trophy, while for 2003 winner Zhang Lianwei this week marks a remarkable 27th successive Volvo China Open to stretch his record as the only player to compete in every edition since the tournament began in 1995.

Despite Covid protocol challenges, both the China Golf Association and Volvo Cars have committed to staging the event but without the presence of spectators.

“In order to ensure the health and safety of players and tournament related personnel, the China Golf Association, Volvo China Open and Shenzhen Genzon Golf Club - under the guidance and suggestions of the territorial Government and after careful consideration by the organising committee - decided that the venue shall be closed and be limited only to players, officials and other necessary support staff,” said China Golf Association Secretary General Pang Zheng.

Michel Zhao, chairperson of Volvo China Open Board & Vice President of Communications and MarCom, Volvo Car Asia Pacific added: “The tournament was originally postponed from November 4-7 because of the pandemic. While it is unanimously agreed to close the event to spectators, we have carefully prepared various viewing options both on TV and through live streaming to mobile devices.’’

Now in its 27th consecutive year, the Volvo China Open is the season finale of the 2021 China Tour and the longest-running professional golf tournament on the Chinese mainland.