Jeev, Liang carry the Asian flag at US Masters

April 6th, 2008 - 1:17 pm ICT by admin  

Atlanta (US), April 6 (IANS) As Asian golf grows in strength, Jeev Milkha Singh and Liang Wen-chong will carry the Asian flag at the US Masters next week. Also in the field will be Prayad Marksaeng. While Jeev returns to the Masters for a second time after making the cut on first attempt last year, Liang will become only the second mainland Chinese player to compete in the prestigious Masters Tournament at August National Golf Club.

Already a history maker as China’s first ever Asian Tour number one, Liang has seen his life change dramatically in the decade and a half since he picked up golf.

Jeev, the 2006 Asian Tour number one, was the first Indian to feature in the Masters last year and he made the cut. He admitted he was surprised to earn an invitation back to the year’s first Major but the Indian star intends to repay the faith placed on him with a strong showing.

“It was a pleasant surprise. I never thought I would be invited back,” said Jeev. “I couldn’t have asked for a better invite in my life, I’ll always cherish this.”

His debut last year came courtesy of a magical 2006 season which saw him win four times around the globe and end the year in 37th place on the Official World Golf Ranking.

He led the Masters briefly during the first round after making the turn in three under before finishing tied 10th at the completion of the day. At the halfway stage, he was joint 15th and further rounds of 78 and 79 on a tough and frosty weekend saw Singh wrap up his campaign in equal 37th position.

“I know the golf course now and it does suit my game. But you have to stay patient especially on the greens. I will have to follow my process and routine and see what comes my way.

“I’m going to play it differently this time. I’m going to hit more drivers and I have decided which holes I’m going to tee off with a driver and I’m looking forward to that,” he said.

“Last year (2007) was a letdown but I took it in my stride,” said Jeev, a five-time winner on the Asian Tour. “I should have played the way I played in 2006. But I’m human. My expectations went up and I was expecting more things from myself and became result orientated and forgot about my routine and process,” said Jeev.

“2007 was average but 2008 is going to be a good year. I’m playing well and I’m looking forward to it,” said Jeev, who came close to winning at the Enjoy Jakarta Astro Indonesia Open and Ballantine’s Championship in South Korea recently, finishing second on both occasions.

He was disappointed with the outcome, but he was never discouraged. “Maybe, there’s something else bigger waiting for me,” said the Indian star.

“When I’m on Tour, I would spend the time on the way to the club to play the course in my mind, to prepare myself mentally for it. I’ll imagine what club to use on the tee shot and then play the second shot onto the green,” he explained.

“I’ll play the golf course repeatedly in my mind, over and over again. When I get to Augusta National, then I’ll put it into practice. If it works for me, I’ll give it a go.”

He still gets goose bumps whenever he recalls his maiden visit to the Masters.

“The atmosphere, the golf course and the crowds are fantastic … I can never forget that. It’s such a good atmosphere. The way the players are treated there, it’s different. As a kid, I always dreamt of playing in the Masters and it’s my favourite Major championship. It’s fantastic driving up Magnolia Lane. It’s a great feeling,” he said.

For a person who pays every attention to routine and process, Jeev has made it a point to stay in the same Indian-owned hotel in Augusta. “I’ll be at the same place, and will order some Indian food once in a while,” he laughs.

Liang believes that an Asian Tour player can one day win the Masters and he is ready to bid his time.

“I am grateful for the chance to play in the US Masters,” said Liang. “As representatives of Asia, we want to do a good job there and leave a good impression on them.”

Liang’s mentor and close friend Zhang Lian-wei walked the hallowed grounds in the 2004 Masters but missed the cut by two strokes. Liang hopes to achieve what Zhang failed to do.

The tenacious Liang, who won once and posted eight other top-10s to become Asia’s new number one last season, will have his confidence boosted following a tied 12th finish at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans on the US PGA Tour last weekend.

Liang realises that a good showing at the Masters, the year’s opening Major, will fuel the growing interests of golf in China. This season, a total of six Asian Tour events will be played in China but Liang stressed that it wasn’t entirely up to him alone to carry the nation’s progress in the game.

“I think that the progress of golf does not lie entirely with one player. It is the combined effort of many players who play well in tournaments which will help spread the game,” said Liang.

Liang recalls the moment when his life changed forever. “When I was studying in secondary school in 1993, two teachers from Zhongshan Hotspring Golf Club came to teach us golf and it was then that I developed an interest in the game which led me down this path,” he said.

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