Wednesday 25th April 2018

Beijing (CHINA): Defending champion Alexander Levy has shrugged off jet-lag following a 10,000km flight and will be gunning for an unprecedented third title when the 2018 Volvo China Open gets underway at Beijing Huairou Topwin Golf and Country Club on Thursday (April 26).

The 27-year-old Frenchman is the only player in the history of the tournament to have won it twice and he sees no reason why he can’t make it a hat-trick of titles in what is the 24th staging of China’s national open golf championship.

“Even after winning in Rabat, it honestly never crossed my mind to withdraw from this event,” said Levy, who moved to a career-high world ranking of 47th following his win last weekend at the Trophee Hassan II in Morocco.

“I really like this golf course and I have so many great memories from this tournament so I’m very happy to be back again. I’m certainly in a better place to defend my title after winning last weekend.”

Levy’s grueling journey to make the line-up in Beijing involved flights from Casablanca and Dubai. Yet despite just two hours sleep, he cut a relaxed and smiling figure after playing 18 holes over the par-72 7,261-yard, Ian Woosnam-designed course on the Beijing outskirts in the shadow of the Great Wall.

Inevitably, talk turned to the Ryder Cup and Levy’s dream of playing for Europe in this year’s Ryder Cup in Paris. Although he continues to play down his chances, Levy knows the question will never be far away.

“For sure, I want to be the best player in the world and be part of the best tournament in the world golf but to do that I have to become a better player and keep improving,” he added. “And hopefully I am doing that.

“The biggest change has been my mental game – I am more straightforward and a little less up-and-down on the course these days and that has helped build my confidence. That’s why I was so pleased with the way I handled the pressure in Morocco as it was like a home tournament with so many French people there. That was another major step forward for me.”

Despite being in what he calls “a good place”, Levy knows he faces a stiff challenge for his crown from a powerful 156-man field that includes eight other former winners – including 2016 champion and Chinese number one Haotong Li – as well as Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand. And in an exciting grouping for the fans, the three big guns have been drawn together in the opening two rounds.

“Don’t worry about me,” smiled Levy. “Even if I only slept for a couple of hours and I look tired, I’m looking forward to playing with my good friends Haotong and Kiradech. I’m ready.”

Tri-sanctioned by the China Golf Association, the European Tour and the Asian Tour, the RMB 20 million Volvo China Open sees World No. 32 Aphibarnrat as the highest ranked player in the field. And the 28-year-old Thai is confident going into the event despite the high temperatures predicted for the four days.

“I can’t say that sort of weather will suit me 100 per cent,” he said, “but the way my game is at the moment, it doesn’t really matter – the way I am playing right now means I can play anywhere, in any condition,” said Aphibarnrat.

Leading the 42-strong Chinese contingent is World No. 44 Li. Already a winner in 2018 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, where he saw off the challenge of Rory McIlroy, the 22-year-old returns to where he won the Volvo China Open – his first European Title – in 2016.

“I’m very thankful to the Volvo China Open for giving me the chance to play in and win the tournament as that helped pave the way for the next two years and allow me to experience wonderful moments in my career,” said Li. “That is why it is so important for me to play again this week, try to win the title and keep the trophy in Beijing.”

Since its inauguration in 1995, the Volvo China Open has witnessed four home-grown winners and thousands of spectators will gather along the fairways of this impressive course in the hope that another one of the growing army of talented Chinese golfers can lift the magnificent Scandinavian Horizon trophy.

“From having nothing just 24 years ago, we have grown this tournament to become one of the best in the world and for that we thank Volvo and our partnerships with the European Tour and the Asian Tour,” said Zhang Xiaoning, President of the China Golf Association. “We have seen several home-grown winners and hopefully we’ll see many more in the years ahead.”