Chinese star focusing on mental and physical improvements as he targets return to world’s top 50
Li Haotong is making the most of golf’s pandemic-enforced shutdown.
China’s No 1 has used his extended time at home to plan for a quick return to the sport’s upper echelons after slipping out of the world’s top 50 last year.
The 24-year-old has read books to enrich his mind, and invested in fitness equipment and a golf simulator to bulk up and sharpen his game. More importantly, he donated $142,647 from his Presidents Cup charitable allocation towards the Hubei Charity Federation for COVID-19 relief.
“I am very touched to see those workers who are going to the frontlines for assistance,” said Li, winner of the inaugural PGA Tour Series-China order of merit back in 2014.
The world No 87 hopes his dedication will revive the kind of form which saw him catapult to global attention with a third-place finish at the 2017 British Open.
Last year, Li could only manage two top-10 finishes and also lost his two matches at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne last December, which soured his debut as the first Chinese mainland golfer to qualify for the International Team.
“I have conducted a review of my whole career and had a lot of talks with my family and friends, trying to find out where I can do better in the future,” said Li. “And the more I think about it, the desire of getting back to play in tournaments grows. There’s one thing that I’m certain that this shutdown will only make me love golf more.
“I think the number one priority (during the shutdown) is to keep practicing because this is a great chance to adjust my swing and improve my skills.”
Li reckons his decline in form has been self-inflicted. “I always wanted every shot to be perfect, and apparently that doesn’t help you when you are not in the best condition. So, this is what I’m working on aside from my golf techniques,” he said.
Li added that, as far as mental improvements go, Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now has provided some inspiration.
“I’ve been reading books and learning new things which has been a good way to spend time. The Eckhart Tolle book is mainly about how to communicate with your deepest self and how to find your inner peace,” explained Li.
“Some opinions could be helpful, like how to focus on ‘now’ and how this would help you get rid of some negative thoughts. But I have to say that I may not agree with all the points the author raised. Generally speaking, it’s worth a read.”
The break from life on tour has enabled Li to continue a course in Sports Training with Shenzhen University, and he has also spent time competing with compatriot Wu Ashun on the golf simulator.
“I was be able to finish some college courses which I missed out in the past. And playing a few times on the CGA Simulator Challenge with my tour buddy Ashun was fun,” he said.
He misses competition “a lot”, however, and cannot wait to tee it up again to get the adrenaline flowing once more. “(I’ve missed) the cheering crowds, all my friends on tour, and mostly the exciting feeling that you get after making a nice shot during competition,” he said.
The health situation has served to remind Li to value what he has achieved in his short but successful career thus far, which includes the two victories on the European Tour. He won three times on the 2014 PGA Tour Series-China en route to becoming the No 1 on the developmental circuit.
“Luckily, none of my family and friends were affected by the virus directly. My mom has been very cautious, and when I was still out there playing on tour months back, she always shared tips with me and reminded me to wash my hands often and wear masks,” he said.
“We lost lives every day. All industries got hurt and people got worried about jobs and income. I believe we will get over this in the end as long as we stick together and help each other.”
Li is not giving up his dream of competing full-time on the PGA Tour and returning for a second Presidents Cup appearance next year when Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, hosts the prestigious team event.
“The PGA Tour is a very challenging tour where you have to bring out your best game against the world’s top players every week to stay high up on the ranking,” said Li.
“In the past, I’ve played some good rounds in major events but I would need to get that stability and be more mentally strong. This is what I’m working on right now.”
Despite results not going his way, Li still has fond memories of his Presidents Cup bow.
“The experience is quite unforgettable and I still feel excited about it. I believe in our captain (Ernie Els) and every decision he made.
“I could have done better in those two matches I played in but I didn’t and that is the most disappointing part of my first Presidents Cup journey. But as I said just after the tournament, I believe I can prove myself if I get a chance to play again.
“I really loved the atmosphere of the Presidents Cup which you won’t know until you’ve been there. I didn’t have a great debut but I want to go back and prove myself.”