Back in 1992, Tiger Woods turned heads when he teed it up at a PGA Tour event as a 16-year-old amateur. He missed the cut that week at Riviera. Fast forward 19 years to 2011 where Haotong Li was also turning heads in the golf world. Only he was doing so as a 15-year-old professional.
Born in Hunan, China, on August 3, 1995, Li, like Tiger, was a child prodigy on the golf course. He chose to turn pro a few months shy of his 16th birthday and made his debut at the European Tour’s Volvo China Open, missing the cut. Six weeks later, he made his pro debut on the OneAsia Tour at the Nanshan China Masters and performed much better, finishing tied for 25th.
Later that season, at the age of 16, he appeared in his first major international event, the Australian PGA Championship, and tied for 39th. And for those who think that tournament isn’t a big deal, this is an event that’s been won by the likes of major champions Greg Norman, Geoff Ogilvy, and Adam Scott. So for a 16-year-old, a top-40 finish at a tournament like this is quite impressive.
The fact of the matter is that Haotong Li has been impressive throughout his career and the world is finally getting to see at the 2020 PGA Championship.
Haotong Li won the PGA Tour China Order of Merit at the age of 19
In 2014, the year he turned 19, Haotong Li split his time between numerous tours. He played events on the European Tour, the OneAsia Tour, the Korean Tour, and the Japan Golf Tour but spent most of his time on the PGA Tour China.
He played 12 events on the China Tour and won three times, including back-to-back victories late in the season at the Hainan Open and the Tour Championship. The three wins helped him to win the Order of Merit (the money title), which earned him full-time status on the Web.com Tour (now the Korn Ferry Tour) in the U.S.
Li spent the majority of his time in the States in 2015 but returned to his home country for the European Tour events there. In back-to-back weeks, he finished second at the Shenzen International, losing in a playoff, and followed it up with a solo sixth at the Volvo China Open. He had a solid season on the Web.com Tour and earned an invitation to his first World Golf Championships event at the 2015 HSBC Champions, where he tied for seventh playing against the best players in the world.
He rose as high as No. 32 in the Official World Golf Ranking
The following year, Haotong Li truly broke through. He finished third at the Sony Open on the PGA Tour and then won his first European Tour event at the China Open. He rose to No. 131 in the world and continued to rise in 2017, the year in which he played his first major championships.
Li made the cut at the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills but struggled on the weekend, shooting 82-84 to finish last of those who made the cut. But he didn’t let it get to him and came back strong the next month at The Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. He fired a tournament-low 63 in the final round to finish in solo third, the highest-ever finish by a Chinese-born male in a major, a finish that vaulted him to 63rd in the world ranking. He missed the cut at the PGA Championship but ended the year strong, finishing at No. 58.
Haotong Li won his second European Tour event in 2018 at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which took him to No. 32 in the world. He carded another top-20 finish at a major, finishing 16th at the U.S. Open, and nearly won again, losing to Justin Rose in a playoff at the Turkish Airlines Open.
Unfortunately for Li, he didn’t have much success in 2019 and the early part of 2020, dropping out of the top 100 in the world, but the 25-year-old is back to turning heads this week at the PGA Championship.
Haotong Li is in contention at the 2020 PGA Championship
Entering the week ranked 114th in the world, Haotong Li got off to a nice start at the 2020 PGA Championship at TPC Harding Park. He shot a 3-under round of 67 on Thursday and followed it up with a beautiful, bogey-free round of 65 on Friday morning. With the afternoon groups yet to tee off, he left the course with the lead and has put himself in a great position to win his first major championship.
Haotong Li has always had talent and the world is finally getting to see it. We’ll see how he holds up to the pressure over the next 36 holes.