Wednesday 25th April 2018

China’s number one golfer Haotong Li joined forces with Kiradech Aphibarnrat of Thailand and India’s Shubhankar Sharma to officially launch the 2018 Volvo China Open on the Great Wall of China.

The three star players, who will be in action when the RMB 20 million tournament gets underway at Beijing’s Topwin Golf and Country Club in Huairou on Thursday(April 26), tuned up for the event with an impromptu musical lesson on a traditional Chinese zither.

And while their musical talent didn’t quite match up to their sporting ability, the three golfers enjoyed the traditional ceremony on the nation’s most recognised landmark.

“It’s always a joy to be up here where the view is so beautiful – although I’m definitely more of a golfer than a musician” smiled Li, currently ranked 44th in the Official Golf World Ranking and winner of the Volvo China Open in 2016. “It’s always exciting to be back playing in my home town and hopefully I can play well and bring some sporting success to the country this week.

“The course is in great shape – especially the greens, which are quite fast – and it would mean a lot to win here again, especially in front of my friends and family and all the Chinese supporters so I’m looking forward to it.”

Tri-sanctioned by the China Golf Association, the European Tour and the Asian Tour, the 24th staging of the Volvo China Open has attracted a stellar field, including Sharma and Aphibarnrat, ranked second and fourth in The European Tour’s Race to Dubai respectively.

For Sharma – a first-time visitor to China – the aim is to become only the second Indian winner of China’s national open title and the 21-year-old is looking forward to the challenge having already won twice on tour this season.

“Being here is such a great experience,” he said. “I just flew in from Houston in the morning, had a quick shower and came straight to the Great Wall. I’ve only ever seen it on TV and in movies so it is such a great experience to see it up close.

“I’ve also only ever seen the Volvo China Open on TV and know that Jeev (Milka Singh) won it in 2006. I’ve had a great season so a win this week would be really special. I haven’t seen the course yet but I will go practice, keep doing the things that have brought me success so far and see where it takes me. I’m confident in how I am playing and know I just need one good round to get going again.”

Thailand’s number one Aphibarnrat is also looking forward to swapping the zither for golf clubs. “I definitely prefer to hit balls than play instruments but today has been a great experience for me,” he joked, while posing for selfies on the Great Wall. “I usually only see the hotel and the golf course so to be up at the Great Wall and feel all that history is really exciting.”

But while the players were happy to enjoy the visit, their number one priority this week is success at the Volvo China Open – and 28-year-old Aphibarnrat is bullish on his chances. “My game is going fantastic right now and I think everyone will know that after this week,” he smiled. “My great grandfather’s family came from China so winning here means a lot, especially to my dad, so hopefully I can do it again.”

While the tournament itself will be staged from April 26-29, the pre-event Pro-Am will get underway tomorrow (Wednesday).