Originally created 05/05/04

China builds presence in professional golf world



CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The largest country is starting to making small inroads in professional golf.

Zhang Lian-Wei became the first player from China to play in the Masters Tournament in April. He shot 77-72 and missed the cut by one shot.

Last weekend, Hong Mei Yang became the first Chinese player to win a tournament in the United States by capturing the IOS Futures Golf Classic in El Paso, Texas, the developmental circuit for the LPGA Tour.

Hong Mei, Chun Wang and Li Chun Zhang were chosen to train in America two years ago. All three qualified for the Futures Tour last year, while Yang missed the 54-hole cut at the LPGA Tour qualifying tournament.

"They will become like Yao Ming in basketball, and they will have a very big impact in China for women's golf," said James Chen, who coaches them at Oak Valley Golf Academy in Beaumont, Calif. "These three are the pioneers."

The recent success can't hurt golf's bid to become an Olympic sport.

USGA executive director David Fay, who represents the World Amateur Golf Council in Olympic negotiations, said it is not too late for golf to be included at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

A key date is July 2005, when the IOC meets in Singapore to review the Olympic program. It has been said that golf cannot be added unless other sports are dropped.

Fay said adding a new sport to the program usually requires seven years.

ON THE BAG: Michelle Wie will have major championship experience at her side this week on the LPGA Tour.

Wie, who finished fourth at the Nabisco Championship, has hired Mike "Fluff" Cowan as her caddie at the Michelob Ultra Open at Kingsmill, Va.

"Michelle was so happy to hear the news when I picked her up at school," her father, B.J. Wie, told the Los Angeles Times.

Cowan worked for Tiger Woods when he won the Masters in 1997. He has worked the past five years for U.S. Open champion Jim Furyk, who is out indefinitely recovering from wrist surgery.

SIGN ME UP: Woods, Phil Mickelson and Davis Love III were among those quick to volunteer their time this week at the Wachovia Championship to shoot public service announcements.

The purpose: Saying thanks to sailors and marines.

The Naval Media Center was at Quail Hollow on Tuesday rounding up players for the commercials. The PSAs will be broadcast on the American Forces Network and on the Direct-To-Sailor TV Network during the next two years.

Michael Holahan/fILECaddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan (rear), who has worked for Jim Furyk for the past five years, has been hired to caddie for LPGA Tour golfer Michelle Wie at the Michelob Ultra Open.