By Tim Maitland
The HSBC China Junior Golf Open heralded the end of the old and welcomed in the new as 17 year-old Kevin Ou Zhijun finished his junior career with a victory in the "senior" boys section at the Nansha Golf Club in Guangdong Province.
As the entire country prepared to celebrate the arrival of the Year of the Ox, Ou, a national team member who comes from nearby Dongguan, marked not only the end of the Year of the Rat, but also the end of his amateur career with a dramatic play-off victory over Hong Kong's Steven Lam in the Boys Group A.
"I'm so happy. This is my last junior tournament ever. It's very special to me to win this. I'll play the China Tour this year because I earned my card for the next three years at the qualifying tournament in Zhuhai," said Ou, who also won twice on the HSBC National Junior Championship series during the Year of the Rat.
Ou's exit was nothing short of dramatic. Having been denied an outright win by Lam's clutch putt on the final hole of regulation, which left both players one under par for the tournament, he walked to the green on the first play-off hole with his rival's approach only four feet from the hole and his own ball at least 25 feet away. The end result; Ou drained his uphill putt and Lam missed.
"I was just thinking about making the putt. I was just hoping to play another hole. I wasn't thinking I could win. I couldn't really see the line. I just hit it straight. I think I was really lucky," he explained.
Lam meanwhile had no doubt what was to blame for his narrow defeat.
"I hadn't putted well for three days. My putting sucks! In the second round I shot two under par, but that was with 34 putts! Still, at least I won something," he added when he learned Hong Kong had clinched the team title.
Hong Kong's team win, in a tournament that attracted entrants from Canada, Spin, the US and Spain as well as from Chinese Taipei and Malaysia, owed much to their performances in the Girls Group A where 16-year-old Stephanie Ho had to hole a 20-foot birdie putt on the first play off hole against her teammate Tiffany Chan to avoid turning a massive lead at the start of the day into a loss.
"That was my first birdie of the day! I didn't make a single birdie on my whole round. I never felt "well" mentally all day. I had a nine-shot lead and I guess I wasn't focusing," she said, more cheerfully than her words might suggest.
"I had thought it was going to be easy. It was just average the whole way round; bogies, double-bogies and missing my birdie chances. I was just quietly imploding. Next time I have a big lead I'll play more carefully!" she promised.
When the Year of the Rat makes way for the Ox, the HSBC China Junior Program, in which the world's local bank partners with the China Golf Association to create a long-lasting legacy for the US$5 million HSBC Champions, expand its stable of events with the addition of the HSBC Junior Regional Team Championship to the six regular stops of the HSBC National Junior Championship, along with the HSBC National Junior Championship Final and the 2010 HSBC China Junior Golf Open.
The sense of change was evident everywhere around the Nansha clubhouse, decorated throughout with the red streamers and trimmings that typify this time of year. It was no more obvious than when 14-year-old Hsu Wei-Ling of Chinese Taipei rushed to get to a computer after winning the Girls Group B. However, as Hsu logged into Skype to spread the news of the biggest win of her life, it wasn't her family that she phoned first.
"I called to thank my friend at the travel agents that helped me get my flight," she explained.
"Because it's so close to Chinese New Year it was really hard to get a ticket and we had to try many ways before we could get here, so I wanted to thank them… then I called my dad," she added.
Topics: HSBC Women's Champions