September 14, 2022 | 10:48
Once considered a ‘skinny kid’ from Dalian, Carl Yuan will live out his dream as he takes on the big boys at the season-opening Fortinet Championship in Napa, Calif. on Thursday, becoming the third mainland Chinese player to compete at the highest level of golf as a new PGA Tour cardholder.
And remember, Yuan is not your typical orthodox swing golfer.
The 25-year-old secured his PGA Tour status via the recently concluded Korn Ferry Tour after an impressive campaign with one win and three outings to finish second in the standings. Yuan will be joined in the new 2022-23 season by compatriot Marty Zecheng Dou, who returns for a second crack in the big league after a low-key debut in 2018. Xinjun Zhang is the other mainland Chinese golfer who has held a Tour card , also in 2018.
Now that Yuan’s golf course has taken him to the game’s ultimate destination, he’s in no rush to achieve quick success as he’s aware of the hard work that propelled him through the ranks – which included a season on PGA Tour Series-China in 2018 – must continue.
“I hope I can win a PGA Tour title within five years and be in the top 30 in the world,” he said thoughtfully. “The PGA Tour is a new platform, and I may need time to adapt.”
Yuan’s involvement in sports was largely due to the influence of his father, a businessman in maritime trade where Dalian is known as a port city in northeast China. At the age of seven, Yuan followed him when his father, Dahai Yuan, played casual games with friends, and the elder Yuan admitted that he saw no desire for his only child to ever become a professional athlete.
“He was so curious about the golf course, and my friends and I were playing golf,” Dahai said. “He was running around and when he was tired he was lying on my golf bag. He was so short and skinny in those days, and my caddy was dragging the golf bag and him around 18 holes.
“We let him try golf as one of his activities, which included table tennis and football (soccer). Carl was not exceptional compared to other children at that time. But he trained hard at his own pace. He really loves and loves golf.
While Yuan received formal coaching like during his growing years, he has since developed a unique swing and style that has made him somewhat of a social media sensation. Most of the time he produces the textbook of golf, a smooth swing, but on other occasions his follow-up action resembles that of a Shaolin master (Chinese exponent of martial arts) where he produces the “helicopter” finish with his hands, or has only one leg on the ground as he propels his ball through the air.
His shooting range warm-up routine includes a “pipe drill”, which involves hitting shots on purpose so that his clubface is square at impact. Other competitors are often ejected watching Yuan warm up, but for the friendly Chinese it’s just about trying to get his ball to the intended target as evenly as possible.
“I think everyone has their own style. My style, my swing matches my personality. I need to be comfortable when I swing. I follow my feelings, not these techniques, when I play,” said Yuan, who represented China at the Tokyo Olympics. “It’s a bit different, it puts the ball in the hole. For me it’s not really about a hard swing, more about how I get the ball from A to B and my body takes care of it. I’m not doing these swings intentionally. They just came out.”
In reflection, a big step in Yuan’s rapid development was his parents’ decision to send him to Florida to study and pursue his golf dreams when he was 14 years old. the language barrier, but Yuan, who is now fluent in English, has thrived and matured beyond his years.
His mother, Xiaohu Li, remembers the dynamism Yuan showed from a young age and also talked about his level-headed nature. “At that time, Carl was just bigger than a golf club. Later, we bought him a 7 iron for kids and sometimes he can hit 600 to 800 balls. He told me that the sound of ‘a golf club hitting the ball is the most beautiful sound in the world,’ Li smiled.
“Carl never lost that passion, never gave up. He told his teacher in elementary school that he wanted to drop some lessons in the afternoons to practice his golf. “We argued. He was also very good at solving problems on his own. When he was 12, he wasn’t playing well in a tournament and I found him crying. A few days later, he m said “Mom, don’t worry about me, I found a way to handle the pressure and solved my problem”.
Yuan spent three years at the University of Washington, which changed his life both personally and professionally. Along with strengthening his calling to make golf a career, he also met his wife, Cathy Luo, who is also a professional golfer. They have since settled in Jacksonville, Florida, and are widely considered the “dream couple” by Chinese media.
“I have my wife come with me to tournaments and I talk golf with my wife all the time. We are a team,” Yuan said.
The Fortinet Championship will be played at Silverado Resort and Spa (North) Thursday through Sunday.