Els happy to have ‘lively’ Li in lineup 1
Els happy to have ‘lively’ Li in lineup 2
China’s Li Haotong hits his tee shot on the ninth hole during the second round of the FedEx St Jude Classic golf tournament at TPC Southwind in Memphis on July 26, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Chinese star named to International Team for Presidents Cup competition

Being named captain of the 2019 Presidents Cup International Team was still in Ernie Els’ future two summers ago during the final round of the British Open, when he was paired with a player who would soon make history.

China’s Li Haotong caught the attention of Els – and the world – when the wide-eyed 21-year-old carded eight birdies over his last 11 holes en route to a 63 and a third-place finish at Royal Birkdale, the highest PGA Tour finish ever by a Chinese golfer.

On Sunday, Li became the Chinese mainland’s first-ever Presidents Cup selection when the top eight qualifiers were officially named. He will join Chinese Taipei’s Pan Chengtsung on an International Team that also includes Marc Leishman, Adam Scott and Cameron Smith (Australia); Hideki Matsuyama (Japan); Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa); and Abraham Ancer (Mexico).

“Li is a strong player who generates a lot of attention in China,” Els said. “He’s got a great game. I’ve played with him many times, including watching him shoot that 63 in the final round of the British Open two years ago.

“He has all the qualities of a world-class player and could become No 1 in the world one day. He’s got that kind of talent.”

The week-long Presidents Cup tees off at Australia’s Royal Melbourne Golf Club on Dec 9, with the International Team looking to card just its second win in series history.

The United States Team has won each of the past seven meetings since a memorable 17-17 tie in 2003.

“I put a lot of work into getting on the Presidents Cup team,” Li said. “I think I’m quite deserving at this point. I just want to go there and show my golf game to the world.”

Li will certainly get his chance against a US squad captained by Tiger Woods that includes Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Bryson DeChambeau.

Despite the deep US lineup, Els is confident he has the players necessary to compete into Sunday. And it starts with Li, who has three top-20 finishes in the World Golf Championships, including a tied-ninth at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where he beat Koepka and Alex Noren in preliminary rounds.

“Li has so much potential going forward – great game and great attitude,” Els said. “I like his style of play, and he’ll be great in the team environment.

“He’s quite a lively character, and he’s quite outspoken in a confident way. He’ll carry his weight in the team room very well. Good putter, and when he’s on his game he can shoot as low as anybody. I am really excited to have him on the team.”

Li nearly made the Presidents Cup in 2017, when he finished 14th in the standings. No other Chinese mainland player has come closer to qualifying, with Zhang Lianwei’s 30th-place finish in 2007 the only other notable contender.

“Two years ago I was quite close to making it,” said Li. “This time, finally, I’m on the team, and hopefully I can get some points, especially against Tiger, who’s the best golfer in the world. It’s very exciting to be going to Melbourne. I just want to play my best and hopefully beat them.”

Meanwhile Pan, another Presidents Cup first-timer who in April won the RBC Heritage, is no stranger to Royal Melbourne, where he finished T7 at the 2014 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.

“He’s a guy we have to do our homework on and try to get him matched up with the right player and get him comfortable in the team environment,” Els said of Pan.

“He’s got a very sound game. He’s a good putter and he does everything well.

“He just has to work on his consistency. To be the first golfer from Chinese Taipei to play in the Presidents Cup is a big deal.”