How Li Haotong gatecrashed the Open party at Birkdale
Before last year’s Open Li Haotong was perhaps best known for a viral video showing his mother wading knee-deep into a pond to fetch her son’s club after he had discarded it in a fit of anger at the Open de France.
Fast forward a month to Royal Birkdale and the Chinese phenom was getting tongues wagging for all the right reasons.
Haotong was nowhere to be seen on the leaderboard heading into the final day. However, a final round of 63(-7), which included birdies on the last four holes, saw him jump into third place at six under.
It was the best finish for an Asian player at the Open since Lu Liang-Huan’s runner-up spot at Royal Birkdale in 1971.
Here Haotong talks us through his last-gasp surge up the field…
For someone who shot 63 you had a pretty slow start with seven pars. What clicked?
I just kept in my process and waited for my run during that round… and it finally came!
How special was it to play like that alongside Ernie Els and how encouraging was he?
Ernie is a legend of the game and somebody I have always looked up to as a role model. To play with him on a Sunday in any major is special, but when you also add in my 63 it was unbelievable.
When you went to the range how hard was it concentrate given what was at stake?
I went to the range with my agent Paul McDonnell and my coach Jamie Gough. I just wanted to take my mind off what was happening so we did some short game and putting practice. Once the guys played 16, it was then all over in my mind for me.
Did you ever watch the Open on TV when you were growing up?
Yes, it was always on back home in China. Growing up that was the best major for me watching with the time zones. The Masters was always on so late and on a school night…
You birdied the last four holes, but how impressive was Jordan Spieth over those closing holes?
Jordan is one of the best players in the world, so you have to expect he is always going to do something special – and so he did on those closing holes to win.
You began the day just inside the top 30. Did you have a goal for that Sunday?
I went out to shoot the best possible round I could, and I’m fortunate enough to say I did that and moved up the leaderboard.
When did you realise that you had got into the Masters?
When I got interviewed after my round by Sky Sports and they told me halfway through about the Masters. I couldn’t believe it.
Did you get more confidence from finishing third at Birkdale or your win on Tour?
Both gave me different kind of confidence, winning a trophy is amazing. But also finishing third in a major gave me a massive boost to finish with all the Rolex events to play at the end of the year.