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Golfing prodigies: 12-year-old Ye set to make history

updated 11:58 AM EDT, Wed May 1, 2013
Ye Wocheng is juggling school with his historic golfing career. Photo from Richard Castka/Sportpixgolf.com.
Ye Wocheng is juggling school with his historic golfing career. Photo from Richard Castka/Sportpixgolf.com.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ye Wocheng to make history as the youngest player on the European Tour at China Open
  • The 12-year-old is joined by teenage talent Bai Zhengkai and Dou Zecheng
  • Golfers hope to follow the lead set by China's Masters sensation Guan Tianlang
  • The PGA lifts doping sanctions against Vijay Singh

(CNN) -- Prepare to meet the young apprentices to China's Masters sensation Guan Tianlang.

The 14-year-old stunned the golfing world when he made the halfway cut as the youngest player to enter the prestigious major, finishing as Augusta's leading amateur.

But Guan is likely to be just the start as China prepares to unveil its next crop of golfing prodigies at this week's China Open in Tianjin.

China's brat pack is led by 12-year-old Ye Wocheng, who tees off as the youngest player in the history of the European Tour on Thursday.

Alongside him will be15-year-old Bai Zhengkai, who earned his place in the field after winning the China Junior Match Play Championship, as well as qualifier Dou Zecheng, a relative old-timer at 16 years of age.

That trio will all be hoping to follow the headline-grabbing example set by Guan at last month's Masters.

"We're always all helping each other out, and turning to one another for advice," explained Ye, who at 12 years and 242 days will beat the record for the youngest competitor at the China Open set by Guan last year.

14 year old golfer makes Masters history
Guan Tianlang, now 14, qualified for the 2013 Masters when -- as the youngest player in the field, then rated 490th in the world amateur rankings -- he beat a host of senior golfers to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand. Guan of China became the youngest player to make the cut at Augusta and finished as the top amateur. Guan Tianlang, now 14, qualified for the 2013 Masters when -- as the youngest player in the field, then rated 490th in the world amateur rankings -- he beat a host of senior golfers to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Thailand. Guan of China became the youngest player to make the cut at Augusta and finished as the top amateur.
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"I think the main reason for the success of young Chinese players is that we pick up the game at an early age, and we practice really hard. Hopefully that practice can pay off this week."

The Chinese youngsters will be up against the likes of Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley and Scotland's Ryder Cup player Paul Lawrie at the Binhai Lake course, but if Ye finds that youth is not quite a match for experience he has a secret weapon to hand.

"I always wear my lucky hat out on the course, because it helps me shoot lower," Ye, who lives in the industrial city of Donggaun in Guangdong province, explained.

"I played really well the first time I wore it, and have worn it ever since. Hopefully the luck continues this week.

"I'm very happy to be the youngest player on the European Tour, and also a little nervous at the same time.

"My main aim this week is just to go out there and enjoy it; I don't really want to think too much about the result."

Ye is coached by Englishman David Watson, who as a junior played alongside future Ryder Cup players Justin Rose and Lee Westwood.

Watson has been coaching in China for the last decade and has been working with Ye since he was nine, describing the teenager's potential as "limitless".

"At the moment, I don't believe that Ye has too many close rivals of the same age," Watson told the European Tour website. "The China Open will be tough for him, but we will be ready."

Bai is aiming to be around for the whole weekend at the China Open.

"Hopefully I can make the cut this week -- that is my goal. I've played many practice rounds on the course, and it's very difficult. Some holes against the wind will be very tough to make par on, but all I can do is try my best."

South Africa's defending champion Branden Grace, who tied for 18th in the Masters, is only 24 but is in awe of Chinas' burgeoning talent.

"It's amazing," he said. "I only started playing the game at 11, so I wouldn't like to think what handicap I was playing off when I was 12!

"I spoke to [Ye's] coach and he told me he's been winning almost every amateur tournament he's played in this year.

"So I'll be looking out for his results here this week, as I'm sure will most other people. It's a great story, great for him and for the game of golf in general."

Reprieve for Singh

Meanwhile, the Professional Golf Association (PGA) has cleared three-time major winner Vijay Singh of infringing the Tour's anti-doping policy.

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The 50-year-old admitted earlier this year to using deer antler spray which contains small extracts of growth hormone IGF-1, a substance listed on the PGA's list of banned products.

The PGA sanctioned Singh but the Fijian golfer appealed, saying he did not know the product contained banned substances.

The World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) has since said it no longer considers using deer antler spray to be prohibitive unless it resulted in a positive test.

That statement led the PGA to rule that Singh should no longer face a ban, ruling: "Based on this new information, and given WADA's lead role in interpreting the prohibited list, the Tour deemed it only fair to no longer treat Mr.Singh's use of deer antler spray as a violation."

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