A Kiwi hitting the green on the China golf scene

Golf is a game that usually takes Kiwi Kieran Muir around the world. The Tauranga-based pro golfer has recently been splitting his time touring in China and on the Australasian circuit.

In April 2019, he competed in the Shenzhou Peninsula Open in China and in August 2019, he won the Huangshan Open. While COVID-19 has put a temporary bump on his golf, he sits down with the Asia Media Centre to answer some questions on his successes, golfing in China, and the impact of COVID-19 on the game.*

So winning in China, how was that? I read that was the tournament where the heat was really rough for some players.

Yeah, it was a humid heat. I was through my first six holes and I thought to myself ‘if I get through nine holes here and it gets worse, I don't know how I'm gonna get through’.

That was in the second round on the Friday afternoon and there were probably three or four guys that didn't finish that day.

LL5A2835 Kieran Muir after the Huangshan Open.

You know, the win didn't quite sink in at first. It didn't sink in when I put that last putt in, that’s for sure. But I had a few minutes driving back to the clubhouse from the 18th green and I had time to reflect.

To win on an overseas tour, it was pretty special. Pretty special.

Why did you start playing in China?  

Golf’s pretty new in China. A lot of other golfers I knew had been playing up there for three or four seasons before I went up there and they spoke very highly of it.

They could all see that the future of the game in China was going to be quite big and quite bright.

I thought ‘I’ll go up there and have a go’ because at that stage I was playing the Australasian tour and playing in New Zealand but I wanted to get further abroad. So, I went up and had a go at the qualifying score in China.

Why not play in Europe or America?

I want to play in Europe and the CGA tour in is a pathway to Europe. If you win the Order of Merit in China, you get European tour status, and if you have a good season, then you can get to certain stages of the European Qualifying School and so on. On the other hand, The PGA China series is a pathway to the Korn Ferry Tour and the PGA Tour in the US. 

So that's why you’ll see Kiwi players [in China] going separate ways because some want to go play Europe eventually, and some want to play in the US.

MUIR Kieran 3 Muir qualified to play in China in 2018 and followed that up with successful tours in 2019.

What’s it like living and playing in China?

It's been a bit of an eye opener, because all the countries I've travelled to haven't been too dissimilar from New Zealand culturally and in most of the countries the first language will be English.

So, I think China has opened up my eyes, because there’s a lot of people, very busy and they move very fast.

Playing golf there is fantastic. Because golf is new to China, a lot of golf courses have only been built in the last 10 to 15 years, for a modern game.

Golf courses built 50 years ago were built for players hitting at a certain distance. But now players are hitting a lot further.

In China, modern golf courses are long and tight, they’re well-bunkered and the hazards are well placed so they're very challenging.

What is the attraction of the game and what place does it hold in Chinese life? 

When we play in the Pro-Ams [Professional-Amateur games], we traditionally play with sponsors - businessmen. I get the feeling that traditionally, golf - a bit like some other countries in Asia - may have been accessed at the start only by the wealthy. 

But what I'm seeing now is a lot of young kids coming through, and there's support from parents and from the CGA, making sure that kids are involved.  

1 Muir usually splits his time between tours in China and on the Australasian circuit.

Golf is new to Asia and we keep looking at the players there and thinking it's only a matter of time before the men's game becomes a bit more dominated by Asian players, much like the female game has. 

There’s a lot of people – Li Haotong, Ashun Wu –that have set an example for young people coming through and I think in 10 to 12 years’ time, China will be a powerhouse in golf. 

Will the current COVID-19 interruption derail things for you in the long run in China? 

When I look at the media, I think the Chinese are starting to get the virus under control and I'm quietly confident they will get things underway before a lot of other tours.

If you take the European tour, for example, logistically that's going to be a nightmare because they have to travel from one country to another every week.

[Chinese organisers] have told us late, late summer and Chinese late summer is August, September. By the middle of November, it's getting too cold to compete up there. So, we're going to have a small window to try and fit in as many tournaments as we can.

* This Q and A been edited for brevity and clarity

Photos are sourced directly from China Golf Association tours media team and we have been given access and the rights to use these photos.

- Asia Media Centre