(Reuters) - As a long-term trailblazer for Chinese golf, Liang Wenchong would have expected to be a certain participant at next year’s Rio de Janeiro Games when the sport makes its return to the Olympic fold.
However, the 37-year-old, winner of eight tournaments on major tours in Asia and Europe, faces a fight to grab one of the two spots on the Chinese team with the emergence of Wu Ashun and Li Haotong in the world’s top 200.
The two have taken on the trailblazer mantle with Wu taking the European Tour’s China Open in April and 20-year-old Li progressing to compete on the Web.com Tour in America after winning three times last year on the PGA Tour of China.
The PGA Tour of China, set up with the help of the U.S. PGA Tour, was designed to increase playing opportunities and Liang was sure the young domestic players would show their worth when a number of major events come to China over the coming months.
“I am pleased to witness China’s golf development and we have young players like Wu and Li who are stepping up and producing outstanding performances,” Liang told reporters on a conference call ahead of his participation in the Macao Open next month.
“With the support from China Golf Association, the number of young players are increasing and many have the potential to reach at a world class standard.”
Following the Asian Tour’s Macau event, the European Tour stages the Hong Kong Open before the prestigious World Golf Championship HSBC Champions event in Shanghai and BMW Masters in the same city the following week in November.
While many Chinese players will receive sponsors invites for the event, Liang was hopeful that domestic players will soon be qualifying on their own merit.
“Over recent years, the number of Chinese players participating at international tournaments has been growing steadily,” said the 222nd world ranked golfer with the quirky swing.
“However, compared with overseas players, we still see a gap in standard between local Chinese players and international players and at the moment, there are less than 10 Chinese players on the pro tour.”
Liang has until July 11 to leapfrog Wu (ranked 176) and Li (188) to make the Chinese team for Rio but the experienced player, who won on the Japan Golf Tour in June, said he would carefully select his schedule.
“I am working hard to prepare for upcoming season and hopefully can qualify for the Olympics,” he said.
“However, it doesn’t mean I will participate in a large amount of tournaments.”
Writing by Patrick Johnston in Singapore; editing by Amlan Chakraborty