Once ranked in the top-50 in the world, China’s Haotong Li hopes to use this week’s appearance at the US$7.5 million Sony Open in Hawaii on the PGA TOUR to relaunch his once-promising career which saw him take down stars including Rory McIlroy and Brooks Koepka in head-to-head duels.
The 26-year-old Chinese golfer has endured some lean times which coincided with the start of the Covid-19 pandemic but recent runner-up finishes in China’s National Games and the Volvo China Open have been positive signs.
Li, who was a member of the International Team for the 2019 Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne and a two-time winner on the DP World Tour, tees up at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu which features defending champion Kevin Na, last weeks’ Sentry Tournament of Champions winner Cameron Smith, Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Korean star Sungjae Im and world amateur No. 1 Keita Nakajima.
“First of all, thanks to the Sony Open for this great opportunity to be here. It is a great event and it is a pleasure for me to start my new year in Hawaii. I hope I’ll have a good start,” said Li, who missed the cut in his lone appearance in Hawaii in 2016.
“I have prepared well and I hope to show my strength. I’m really looking forward to this week.”
His slide from the world rankings began in 2020 where he missed eight cuts in 18 appearances, and 2021 was also a year to forget as he missed 14 cuts in 18 tournaments. He has fallen to his current 460th ranking in the world.
Part of his comeback has included working with a new coach, Jamie Mulligan, who also coaches reigning FedExCup champion Patrick Cantlay, and Li has begun to show glimpses of his old form with strong results at home during the final quarter of last year.
He is best remembered for beating McIlroy in a head-to-head for a memorable victory in the 2018 Dubai Desert Classic and he also defeated Koepka in the 2019 Dell Technologies Match Play in the group stages which later helped him become the first golfer from mainland China to qualify for the Presidents Cup. He was also the 36-hole leader at the PGA Championship in 2020 before finishing T17.
Li is hopeful he can regain his place amongst the world’s elite as he launches his 2022 campaign in Hawaii. “In the Volvo China Open last month, I did find some good form and I want to continue with my good form here,” he said.
“I think I didn’t quite know myself when I was in the world’s top-50. Now I know myself better. I’ll pick up the good things and throw away the bad things. I hope to back to that position soon.”