Age continues to be no barrier on European Tour

12-year-old Ye Wo-cheng to play in Volvo China Open

 Branden Grace  celebrates with his caddie Zack Rasego after winning the  Volvo China Open last year.  Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Branden Grace celebrates with his caddie Zack Rasego after winning the Volvo China Open last year. Photograph: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

 

Guan Tianlang may have made history at the Masters, but his status as the youngest player in European Tour history will disappear in the Volvo China Open tomorrow.

Guan made the cut at Augusta National aged just 14, despite being penalised for slow play in the second round, and also played all four rounds in the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last week.

He was just 13 years and 177 days old when he played in the Volvo China Open last year, but 12 months on his compatriot Ye Wo-cheng will replace him in the record books when he tees off at Binhai Lake Golf Club in Tianjin.

“I’m very happy to be the youngest player on the European Tour, and also a little nervous at the same time,” said Ye, who will be 12 years and 242 days old when he plays his first round alongside Spain’s Jose Manuel Lara and Australian Scott Strange.

“But I’m looking forward to the tournament and hopefully I can play well. My main aim this week is just to go out there and enjoy it, I don’t really want to think too much about the result.

“It’s very helpful that I have my coach [David Watson] here this week, because he’s taught me a lot about how to play in the wind. This course is very long, and it will play even longer if the wind blows, but it gives me confidence to know that he is here to give me tips and advice on how to cope in the conditions. I’m excited about getting started tomorrow.”

Ye is joined in the field by 15-year-old Bai Zheng-kai and 16-year-old Dou Ze-cheng, and at a combined age of 43 the trio are a year younger than fellow competitor and former British Open champion Paul Lawrie.

Ye and Dou earned their places in the field after coming through qualifying events, while Bai earned his starting berth courtesy of his victory in the Volvo China Junior Match Play Championship.

South African Branden Grace, who is bidding to become the first player to successfully defend the Volvo China Open title this week, praised Ye’s achievements.

He said: “It’s amazing. I only started playing the game at 11, so I wouldn’t like to think what handicap I was playing off when I was 12. I spoke to his coach yesterday and he told me he’s been winning almost every amateur tournament he’s played in this year.

“I’ll be looking out for his results here this week, as I’m sure will most other people. It’s a great story, great for him and for the game of golf in general.”

Grace’s three-shot win over Ryder Cup star Nicolas Colsaerts last year was one of five tournament victories in 2012, while he finished 18th on his Masters debut at Augusta last month.

“I took a week off after the Masters then unfortunately I caught a little bit of flu so it hasn’t been the ideal preparation for the week,” he said after the pre-tournament pro-am on Wednesday. “But I played very nicely today and didn’t make any bogeys, so that bodes well.”

Former China Open winner Damien McGrane leads a five-strong Irish contingent in China, along with Peter Lawrie, Gareth Maybin, Michael Hoey and Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley.

Meanwhile, former British Open champion Darren Clarke returns to action at the CIMB Niaga Indonesian Masters this week after recovering from the hamstring injury which kept him out of the Masters.

“It has been a frustrating period,” said Clarke, who injured himself playing tennis on holiday.

“I’m not good at sitting and not doing anything. I’ve had intensive treatment on my hamstring and it is fine now.

“I couldn’t do anything. I could hardly walk, hit golf balls or putt. I had to sit at home and watch. Augusta is a very special place and I miss being there.

“I’ve been practising hard at home but it is a little bit different compared to playing in Asia. My swing is okay but I’m still a bit rusty. I haven’t played since March. It was no choice of my own but unfortunately it is the way it is.”