Yuan shelves PGA Tour ambitions to fly Olympic flag for China
KAWAGOE, Japan, July 30, 2021 (BSS/AFP) - Carl Yuan put his pro career on hold to win Asian Games team silver for China three years ago, and he has put country first again to target a Tokyo Olympics medal that he says could be "revolutionary" for golf in the world's most populous country.
Yuan's goal is to emulate female Chinese player Feng Shanshan's 2016 Rio Games bronze, but that meant returning to China in June for centralised Olympic team training and losing the chance to earn a lucrative PGA Tour card.
China's number one missed several tournaments on the PGA Tour's second-tier Korn Ferry circuit, which could have seen him finish inside the top 25 to gain his PGA Tour credential.
"Yeah, it was a little bit of sacrifice," Yuan told AFP after shooting a two-under par 69 in the first round at Kasumigaseki Country Club on Thursday to be six shots off the leader Sepp Straka, and tied with luminaries such as major winners Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy and Hideki Matsuyama.
"But it's only my third year as a professional golfer, and there's a lot ahead of me," said Yuan who wants to show Chinese golfers can mix it with the best, despite none being currently ranked inside the world's top 300.
"It would be revolutionary to our industry in China and will give a lot of hope to our generation as well that we can play great in this game, that we can compete against the Europeans and Americans," said the man ranked 320 in the world.
He is playing under the Chinese flag this week alongside 339th-ranked Wu Ashun, who has won three times on the European Tour, and wearing his country's colours clearly means a lot to Yuan.
But he admitted the weight of expectation and the magnitude of playing at the Olympics "got my heart pumping" on the first tee.
The result was a wayward drive deep into the rough, but he managed to scramble a par which settled the 24-year-old from Dalian, north-west China.
"I'm playing a lot more than just for myself. I'm playing for a lot of people. I'm playing for a whole country that supported me all along the way and that was really special for me."
Straight after winning a medal at the 2018 Asian Games in Jakarta, where the golf competition remains strictly amateur, Yuan declared that he was targeting Tokyo 2020.
"It was definitely one of my goals for the year to be here, and I'm glad with all the support I had, I got it done," said the man who became the first amateur to win on the PGA Tour China Series feeder circuit in 2018 while he eschewed turning pro ahead of the Asian Games.
"Being able to do this for my country, which happens once in every four years, it's one-of-a-kind experience. I'll never regret doing this."