‘Baby’ Ye makes Tour history as China showcases young golf talent

Story highlights

Ye Wocheng becomes youngest European Tour player in history at the China Open

The 12-year-old finishes first round on seven over par and in danger of missing cut

Chinese 16-year-old Dou Zecheng signs for an impressive two-under-par 70

Golf's global authorities back decision not to disqualify Tiger Woods at the Masters

CNN  — 

China’s young golfers mixed the rough with the smooth on an historic day at the China Open on Thursday.

Ye Wocheng underlined China’s prodigious golfing talent as he teed off to become the youngest player in the history of the European Tour at the age of 12 years and 242 days.

It was also a day to remember for another of China’s young talent pool as 16-year-old Dou Zecheng signed for an impressive two-under-par 70 in Tianjin.

“I was bit nervous at the start, had a bogey on the third but then came back really well with four birdies,” said Dou, who was joint 11th after the first day’s play in a group including compatriot Bin Yan.

“This is obviously by far the biggest event I have ever entered, so I am very excited to be part of it.

Read: Ye - ‘I always wear my lucky hat’

“This is a very long, tough course for me. On a couple of the longer par fours, I need to hit my wood from the fairway to have any chance of reaching the greens.

“I hit a bit of a top off the first tee and only carried it 230 yards, but it was okay because I still got a par.”

Ye also made a solid start on the back nine at the Binhai Lake Golf Club, holing a birdie at the par-four 14th to cancel out his dropped shot on the 13th to card a creditable 38 at the turn.

But the schoolboy from the southern manufacturing hub of Dongguan lost momentum over the front nine, dropping five bogeys for a final seven-over-par score of 79.

Ye, who balances his homework with his golfing career, now faces a battle to survive the halfway cut at the $3.2 million tournament.

“It’s the first time I’ve played with a baby!” said his 35-year-old Spanish playing partner Jose Manual Lara. “I think I was playing on the computer at 12, not playing in a big tournament on the European Tour.

“He’s definitely got something about him. He knows how to manage himself out on the course, and I’m sure he’s going to go a long way in the game.

“He hits it a long way for his age and he’s got a very good short game. I was impressed with him.”

The 15-year-old Bai Zhengkai, who earned his place in the field after winning the China Junior Match Play Championship, finished the day on 11 over.

They are following in the footsteps of Guan Tianlang, who drew global focus on China’s young talent with his sensational Masters debut last month.

The 14-year-old made the halfway cut as the youngest player to enter the prestigious major and finished as Augusta’s leading amateur.

Tianlang was invited to play at the PGA Tour event in New Orleans last week, where he also made the cut but then finished 71st – bottom of the players who made it to the weekend rounds.

Back at the China Open, Dutchman Robert-Jan Derksen held the first-round lead after a late birdie run took the 39-year-old to a six-under 66.

Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin and Australian Brett Rumford were tied for second two shots further back.

Former British Open champion Paul Lawrie was still in the hunt on 69 but Europe’s new Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley finished four over for the day.

Woods ruling

Meanwhile, golf’s governing bodies have backed the decision by officials at the Masters not to disqualify Tiger Woods from last month’s tournament even though the world No. 1 was found guilty of infringing the rules.

Augusta’s rules committee deemed Woods had violated one of golf’s ball-drop rules during the second round and handed him a two-stroke penalty.

But there had been calls for Woods to be disqualified from the tournament after he incorrectly signed for a round of 71.

The 14-time major winner hit a shot on the 15th hole that ricocheted off the flagstick and bounced into a pond. Woods took a drop but later conceded he had not taken the drop at the same place as the original spot – an infringement that warrants a two-shot penalty.

At the time, officials determined Woods hadn’t broken any rules and so did not disqualify Woods for signing an improper scorecard because it made its “initial determination prior to the finish of the player’s round.”

It was only under further scrutiny from the television coverage – prompted by an inquiry from a viewer – that Woods was retrospectively punished, but was not penalized for the incorrectly signed scorecard.

The R&A and the U.S. Golf Association supported the decision made at Augusta – but stressed it should not set a precedent for future incidents.

The joint statement explained: “In returning his score card, Woods had breached Rule 6-6d by returning a score (6) for the 15th hole that was lower than his actual score (8).

“The penalty for such a breach of Rule 6-6d is disqualification. Under Rule 33-7, a committee has discretion to waive that penalty in ‘exceptional individual cases.’ The Committee elected to invoke that discretion and waived Woods’ penalty of disqualification.

“The Decisions on the Rules of Golf authorize a committee to correct an incorrect decision before the competition has closed, and they establish that where a Committee incorrectly advises a competitor, before he returns his scorecard, that he has incurred no penalty, and then subsequently corrects its mistake, it is appropriate for the committee to waive the disqualification penalty.

“The Woods ruling was based on exceptional facts and should not be viewed as a general precedent for relaxing or ignoring a competitor’s essential obligation under the Rules to return a correct score card.”