Tianjin: China's latest golfing wonder kid, 12-year-old Ye Wocheng, endured a baptism of fire in his groundbreaking European Tour debut on Thursday, shooting a seven-over 79 in the first round of the Volvo China Open in Tianjin.
The schoolboy amateur from the southern manufacturing hub of Dongguan became the youngest golfer to qualify for a European Tour event when he sealed a berth at his national open with a strong finish at the Western China qualifier in March. Ye's first round in the big-time began solidly on the Binhai Lake Golf Club's back nine, holding even after five holes, with a birdie on the 14th cancelling out a bogey the previous hole.
But he grafted to the turn at 38 and dropped a further five strokes on his last nine holes, leaving himself with work to do to see weekend action at the $3.2 million tournament. Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Frenchman Raphael Jacquelin held the clubhouse lead after shooting a pair of 68s.
Ye, aged 12 years and 242 days on Thursday, smashed the previous record for youngest European Tour debutant held by compatriot Guan Tianlang, who was 13 and 177 days when he teed off at the same tournament last year.
Guan created a storm by becoming the youngest golfer to qualify for this year's U.S. Masters and backed up his promise by making the cut at Augusta and again in his next tournament at the U.S. PGA Tour's Zurich Classic in New Orleans that finished Sunday. Ye, coached by Briton David Watson, is joined at Binhai Lake by fellow Chinese prodigies Bai Zhengkai (15) and Dou Zecheng (16).