(Reuters) - Rising talent Dou Zecheng became China’s first player to secure a U.S. PGA Tour card on Sunday by winning the Digital Ally Open on the Web.com Tour.
Dou’s victory, the first for a Chinese on the developmental circuit, continues the 20-year-old’s impressive rise after he bagged four titles in the PGA Tour China Series last year to top the Order of Merit and earn his Web.com card.
“I hope (my win) will bring more young players from China to come out and play golf... and give them more confidence when they come out here and play,” the bespectacled Dou said in a video interview posted on the PGA Tour’s website after winning the Kansas event by three strokes.
“This is going to be pretty big... I never thought I could win this year but it just happened.”
With rain washing out the first day’s play on Thursday, the last two rounds were held back-to-back on a marathon Sunday and Dou made his charge early at the Nicklaus Golf Club at Lions Gate.
He flirted with a course record during a third round of 61 before coolly closing out the win with a 66, finishing with a 25-under total of 259, three ahead of second-placed Americans Kyle Thompson, Luke Guthrie and Billy Kennerly.
Born in China’s heartland province of Henan but raised in Vancouver for part of his childhood, Dou turned professional at 17, electing to forgo university and return to his homeland to hone his career.
Chinese golf has been hit hard by the ruling Communist Party’s crackdown on corruption, with dozens of courses forced to close in recent years.
The PGA Tour China, a circuit that offers promising Chinese golfers like Dou a chance to win a Web.com card, has struggled to get approvals for its tournaments, its managing director told U.S. media in May.
China has only a few hundred courses, most with exorbitant green fees well beyond the budget of common people.
But a number of the country’s young golfers have continued to make steady in-roads on the world’s leading tours.
Li Haotong, a 21-year-old from southern Hunan province, won acclaim at the British Open last week when he closed with a 63 at Royal Birkdale to finish third, the best result by a Chinese at the men’s majors.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by John O'Brien