Pinehurst, North Carolina, United States: Liang Wen-chong will achieve another career milestone at this week’s 114th US Open when he becomes the first player from China to tee it up in all four of golf’s Majors.
The 35-year-old from Zhongshan will complete the ‘grand slam’ of Major appearances at Pinehurst’s No 2 course by virtue of winning international sectional qualifying in Japan last month, and will tee it up alongside Indian Shiv Kapur and German Maximilian Kieffer at 8.35 am (local time) on Thursday and 2.20 pm on Friday.
“It is an unreal feeling to be here,” said Liang after playing the front nine on Sunday and back nine on Monday. “It’s like a dream come true because the US Open is my last Major of the four to play. My emotions are stable, but I have to admit to a bit of nervousness as well.”
The flying time from China to North Carolina may have taken just 20 hours, but Liang’s US Open journey actually began 20 years ago when he picked up a club for the first time.
Inspired by fellow Guangdong native Zhang Lianwei — who blazed a trail for professional golf just as the sport was making inroads into the world’s most populous nation — Liang joined the junior ranks at Zhongshan Hot Spring Golf Club, the country’s first modern course.
Despite an unorthodox swing that persists to this day, Liang quickly separated himself from his peers, winning amateur tournaments across the country. After claiming China’s national championship three years in-a-row from 1996, Liang turned professional and won four domestic tournaments in his first 12 months in the paid ranks.
“Those days were tough as the purses were not so big and you had to play very well all the time to make any money,” said Liang of his early days on Tour. “You definitely needed sponsors to help out otherwise you couldn’t make it.”
His first big international breakthrough came in 2007 at the Clariden Leu Singapore Masters, co-sanctioned by the European Tour, when he beat Malaysian Ian Steel in a play-off to claim the title, earning a spot in his first Major, the 2008 Masters, on an invitation, where he missed the cut.
He also earned a spot at Britain’s Open Championship in 2008 — the year he first broke into the world’s top-100 — making the cut but finishing well down the field.
Wins at the Hero Indian Open in 2008 and his first OneAsia victory at the Midea China Classic in 2009 meant Liang had become one of the most consistent performers in Asia, but 2010 was to prove even better as he knocked off participating off his third Major, the US PGA Championship, in spectacular fashion, scoring a course-record 64 at Whistling Straits in the third round that left him tied for eighth place.
He won twice more on OneAsia in 2010 — claiming the Order of Merit title in the process — but then went into something of a hiatus as he re-examined the way he tackled the game.
The pieces finally fell into place in 2012 at the Nanshan China Masters when Liang broke a two-year victory drought by beating YE Yang in a sudden-death play-off to claim his fourth OneAsia title, following that up with a win at the Resort World Manila Masters on the Asian Tour.
Liang has also tried to give back in that time, establishing a personal foundation to encourage junior golf in China and also becoming a ‘Working for Golf’ Ambassador for The Royal & Ancient, the sport’s ruling body.
His focus, however, will be on the US Open this week as he takes on the world’s best at Pinehurst.
Like all U.S. Open venues, the course is tough. With course and slope ratings of 76 and 147 respectively a scratch golfer is expected to shoot 76 around the par-70, 7,565-yard course.
“There isn’t much rough, but the test for your irons to the green is very, very tough,” Liang said after his two practice rounds. “Your short game will be the most important thing on this course this week.”