China's teenage golfer Shao survives tough battle for Volvo victory
China's teenager Shao Minghao produced some of the best golf of his life to beat US Junior Amateur Championship quarterfinalist Fang Zeqian in the final of the boy's group in the Volvo China Junior Match Play Championship here on Friday.
Hebei-based Shao went ahead on the fourth hole after fellow finalist Fang bogeyed and was never headed, eventually closing it out on the par-four 18th hole with a par for a one up win.
This week, a total of 63 golfers vied for the coveted match play title, and they were indeed fortunate to even tee it up for the 18th staging of the prestigious event at Qingdao Huashan Golf Resort after parts of the original course chosen to play host was damaged by recent heavy rains in Qingdao.
This year's event, sanctioned by the China Golf Association, tested the stamina as well as the skills of the elite players as an opening seeding round was followed by five further rounds of match play over four gruelling days.
The final was one of the most spirited in the history of the competition, with both players holing crucial birdie putts after pinpoint approach shots throughout the round to keep the scoreline very close.
Fang, who narrowly failed to reach the semifinal of the US Junior Amateur Championship in South Carolina just three weeks ago, hit his second shot to eight feet on the par-five 16th from where he holed out for an eagle three. Shao, who was then two up, played his second shot to seven feet on the same hole but missed the eagle putt.
After both players made par on the par-three 17th, Fang attempted to launch a huge drive down the last but sliced his ball into the woods bordering the hole. He was lucky to get a free drop after his ball came to rest in an ant hill. However, he failed to reach the green from there but managed to scramble a par, which was matched by Shao for the one up victory.
The victory could open many doors for the talented Shao, who will now prepare to play in the Volvo China Open in November, which will again be part of the China Tour this year. Further opportunities are certain to follow.
"I knew I was the underdog today and I saw many negative comments online going into the final round," said Shao.
"Someone commented that they expected Fang to beat me easily and that I would lose by at least five and four. I really wanted to prove those people wrong.
"It was a great battle. Fang is a great player and is tough to beat but I did it today. I feel awesome.
"It wouldn't have played on my mind to lose the match today as I'd already won four matches in a row to get to the final and I'd beaten some very tough players. However I think I deserve this victory today."
Shao has shown great promise in recent months and finished runner-up in the second stop of the Volvo China Junior Challenge in July, in doing so competing in the qualifying event of the Volvo China Open, which was part of the China Tour. That was Shao's first time competing in a China Tour event as an amateur.
In the girl's group, defending champion Wang Zixuan was crowned with a one up win over Li Menghan, who won the fourth hole with a birdie three but then gave back the advantage with a bogey five on the ninth. Wang went ahead with a birdie three on the 10th and held the advantage all the way to the 18th for a narrow but deserving victory.
Wang, 16, commented that although she came through the test and retained her title, it was far from an easy victory.
"It was not as easy as it might have appeared today," she said. "I might not look as though I was panicking out there but I felt very stressful throughout the round.
"I missed a birdie putt on the 16th to lose the hole and to narrow my lead to just one hole. I drank water several times after that just to try to calm down. Li was longer than me off the tee and she played a very steady round of golf. I'm really happy now that it's over."