Chinese star Liang Wen-chong is ready to re-invent himself to ensure his career longevity as he prepares to challenge for the US$2 million UBS Hong Kong Open which starts on Thursday.
Turning 40 in two years’ time, Liang, the only mainland Chinese golfer to win the coveted Asian Tour Order of Merit trophy in 2007, hopes to keep winning tournaments over the next decade.
He will be joined by defending champion Justin Rose of England, Danny Willett, Ian Poulter, winner of the tournament in 2010 and Patrick Reed of the United States, the highest ranked player in the field this week.
Liang has already begun the transitional work, changing his self-taught golf swing with the aim of becoming more consistent in delivering shots that will keep him up on leaderboards.
“I’m changing my swing a bit, trying to take the club away from the body instead of more on the inside which is my current swing. I have to make a good plan for the next few years because I want to become better,” said Liang.
“I need to change because of age. First is the golf swing and then second is the body. You have to get more energy because I’m getting older now. I want to be like Thongchai Jaidee, he’s so tough, he’s my idol. I want to see how to make my golfing life extend longer … need to find the secret.
“I always try to observe Thongchai and learn from him. He’s so into golf, that’s why I think that he’s so strong (even at his age of 47).”
With his plan in motion, Liang harbours dreams of lifting the UBS Hong Kong Open trophy, an event which he started his love-affair with during his amateur days. While he has numerous top-20 finishes at the fabled Hong Kong Golf Club, the 38-year-old’s favourite memory was when he sank a hole-in-one at the 2006 edition which earned him a one kilogram bar of gold sponsored by UBS.
“I remember seeing the ball get into the hole, that’s a good memory. It’s 10 golden years ago and it started a good run for me as in 2007, I won the Order of Merit and the Singapore Masters. That’s very good stuff for me at that time,” said the three-time Asian Tour winner.
“I’ve played the Hong Kong Open for about 20 years, since I was an amateur. I’ve many good friends in Hong Kong, and also my wife is from Hong Kong and my kids have Hong Kong ID. So it’s like my second home.”
While he knows the nuances of the greens in Fanling, Liang said the course has often got the better of him. “Very challenging. Looks easy though,” he smiled.
As the second generation of professional golfers to emerge from mainland China where he followed in the footsteps of five-time Asian Tour winner Zhang Lian-wei, Liang was happy to see Team China finish joint second at the recent World Cup of Golf in Australia through Wu Ashun and Li Haotong.
“That’s good for China golf because we want more champions on tour. I’ve seen Li growing as a little kid, turn pro, and taking it step by step. Now, he’s second in the World Cup,” added Liang.
Ryder Cup star Reed, ranked eighth in the world, plans to take things easy after finishing in tied third place in his debut appearance at the UBS Hong Kong Open last year.
“I’m not going to be as aggressive off the tees, but we’re still going to be really aggressive with those irons on the greens. It cost me a tournament last year. There’s a lot of errors I had last year,” said Reed.
“The biggest difference is you can’t make the careless errors. There’s a lot of times last year where being the aggressive nature that I am in golf, I went for a lot of things I shouldn’t have and it cost a lot of bogeys for me. It was definitely the difference of being — winning the tournament and finishing third,” he added.
The Masters champion Willett will contend at the UBS Hong Kong Open after taking a two-week break.
“You look at the winners that you’ve had around here over the last ten years, and you know, there are some stellar names and great players that have won around this golf course,” said Willett.
“I think that just goes to show how strong the course is. You’ve got to play some good golf and put your ball in the fairway, and obviously roll in a few putts. If you do that come the end of the week, you’re going to have a good chance,” he added.
Entry to the first two rounds of this year’s tournament on Thursday 8 and Friday 9 December will be free of charge. Those aged under 21 will be admitted free of charge for all four days of the tournament, as the organisers push to introduce the game to wider segments of the Hong Kong community in 2016.
Following the success of the inaugural event last year, the UBS Hong Kong Open Charity Cup will return on 14 December with local singer and artist, Alan Tam, as Official Ambassador. The HK$2.3 million was raised in 2015 for three local charities, making it the most successful fundraising initiative for the entire European Tour season.