PACIFIC PALISADES — In 1949, Mao Tse-tung banned golf in China. The courses were plowed up.
It was considered a useless activity reserved for corrupt capitalists and it took up valuable land resources. As if the Chairman needed reasons.
Without golf, mental health presumably rose and blood pressure presumably fell. The next man to build a golf course in China was Arnold Palmer in 1964.
Subsequent Chinese governments moved against golf because corrupt deals were being made on the fairways and greens. Communist Party members were banned from accepting club memberships. Construction on 111 new courses was halted.
But there was no holding back the ocean.
Haotong Li is playing the Genesis Open at Riviera this week. Last year he shot 63 in the final round of the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. That got him third place and a Masters invitation.
Last month, Li birdied 15, 16 and 18, with Rory McIlroy playing alongside and charging, to win the Dubai Desert Classic at 23-under-par, with 30 birdies.
That boosted him to No. 32 in the world and opened the door to the world’s top events.
He is 22. Zecheng Dou is 21. Dou is the first man from mainland China to get a PGA Tour card, and he won a Web.com Tour event last year. Xinjun Zhang, 29, was right behind him. His finish in the Web.com Finals got him on the big tour, after he was banned from PGA Tour China for signing two incorrect scorecards.
Tianlang Guan won the Asian Amateur and thus qualified for the 2012 Masters. He shot 75 the first day, at 135 pounds and 14 years old. Today he plays at the University of Arizona.
Shanshan Feng won the bronze medal in the women’s golf competition at the 2016 Olympics, has nine LPGA titles and one major, and is the top-ranked woman in the world.
“Golf is going to be a very, very big thing in China,” Li said Tuesday. “I think it’s going to be good.”
Every golfing nation needs a Player or a Ballesteros. Li could be the leader of an immeasurably long march.