Speaking little English and playing golf weren’t the most difficult challenges China’s Haotong Li faced when he came to the United States to play on the Web.com Tour in 2015 after he dominated the inaugural PGA Tour China with three victories in 2014.
“The most difficult part is America bread,” Li said ahead of his debut Thursday in the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, Calif. “It’s really tough for me because I’ve been eating rice and noodles growing up, so it’s very tough. You can’t even imagine.”
The dining roadblock hasn’t stopped his ascent up the ranks against the best golfers in the world.
Last year, Li, just 22, lit up the famous yellow scoreboards at the British Open with a final-round 63 to finish third behind champion Jordan Spieth and runner-up Matt Kuchar. The late heroics earned him a trip to this year’s Masters.
“I didn’t realize how big it was for myself,” Li said. “But after a couple days I realized this (was a) huge thing for me and gave me a lot of confidence. When I play, I just say, ‘Oh, I can finish third on the major, I can play well anywhere.”
That included the Middle East. Last month, he went toe-to-toe with four-time major winner Rory McIlroy in the final two rounds of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and made four birdies on the last six holes, including the final two, to win by one shot over McIlroy. With the victory, his second on the European Tour, Li became the first player from China to move inside the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He’s presently ranked No. 33.
In winning his sixth title as a professional, the tall,…