Just 10 months ago, Haotong Li was seriously considering walking away from golf.
On Sunday, the 26-year-old walked off the course at Golfclub Munchen Eichenried with one of the great emotional sporting celebrations after ending his four-and-a-half year wait for his third win on the DP World Tour.
And what a way to end it – after a nail-biting final day, Li sunk the 40-foot birdie putt of a lifetime to beat Thomas Pieters in the playoff and clinch victory at the BMW International Open in Munich.
Shouting and pumping his fists wildly, Li embraced his caddie before covering his face and sinking to his knees on the green. Visibly overcome with emotion, the golfer’s passion continued into his post-win interview.
“Where I am now … it’s f**king golf it’s just f**king hard to describe,” Li told a reporter from the DP World Tour.
“10 months ago I just decide to quit golf, and somehow where I am now … I had no idea I could have won this playoff.
“I didn’t realize I could be that emotional, maybe just because I never thought golf could be that tough. Through a lot of tough times, I realized how good that feeling is to play good again,” he added.
After a 3rd place finish at The Open in 2017 and a second win on the DP World Tour (formerly the European Tour) a year later that saw him pip four-time major winner Rory McIlroy in Dubai, Li had endured a barren run.
Last year, he missed the cut in 13 of his 16 tournament appearances, with his joint 14th place finish at the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in October his only top 60 result of the season. At his lowest position during 2021, he was ranked 542nd in the world.
Two top-six outings in February and April respectively ensured a much better start to 2022, before Li set a new peak with a scintillating course-record 10-under 62 on the opening round in Munich on Thursday.
Two eagles and six birdies ensured the 26-year-old led from the front, with back-to-back 67’s leaving Li leading by three strokes heading into the final day.
He made a scintillating start Sunday with three birdies across the first five holes, but four bogeys by the 16th hole saw his advantage evaporate with three to play. Belgium’s Pieters finished strongly with two birdies across the final three holes to force a play-off, leaving Li to wonder if he was about to suffer yet more heartbreak.
“I thought I just gave another chance away and I just can’t let that can happen to me again,” Li said.
“I already knew it was going to be super tough and I just kept telling myself ‘hang on in there’ … luckily I did.”
The win sees Li take home €340,000 (roughly $358,836) in prize money.