Xander Schauffele is not just defending his title this week at the WGC HSBC Champions tournament in Shanghai.
The American is also helping deliver the lesson of a lifetime to five of China’s most talented junior players.
Tasked with fighting off a stellar group of the world’s best players come Thursday’s opening round, Schauffele – alongside fellow stars Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Ian Poulter and Haotong Li – took the time to put on a unique clinic for the selected youngsters aged 9-18.
Safe to say, if these talented juniors could have drawn up their dream practice session, this might just surpass it.
Rewarded for their outstanding progress and brilliant performance during the 2019 season, the youngsters enjoyed the company and instruction of local favourite Li, as well as a group of Ryder Cup stars with five majors between them.
The youngest of the group, Zilin Xu, is already a proven winner at just nine years old, while Beijing-based Xihaun Chang is a nine-time winner of HSBC Junior Championship events.
Alongside a range clinic, the youngsters also had the opportunity to play the testing par-five 18th at the Sheshan International Golf Club with their accompanying pros. They also joined the red carpet ahead of the HSBC Champions welcome dinner.
Chang – an 11-year old number 1 ranked youth – was paired with local hero Li on the range, who is himself a product of golf’s rapid growth in China.
Certainly, the professional field this week is indicative of how the tournament’s pedigree has developed.
Shanghai will play host to seven past champions, including Rose, Francesco Molinari, Bubba Watson and Phil Mickelson. What’s more, the 78 total competitors boast 25 major trophies and have won over 600 international tournaments between them.
Li, of course, is the local favourite and he leads a seven-strong Chinese challenge. His rise as China’s brightest golfing star owes much to the development of this tournament and its impact on growing the game in Asia.
The inaugural HSBC Champions was held in 2005, and in 2006 it was found that there were only 406 registered junior golfers in China. In 2019, this figure now stands at over 100,000 – with overall junior participation swelling to around 700,000.
Together with the tournament becoming one of the four prestigious World Golf Championship events in 2009, the CGA-HSBC Junior Golf Programme has put golf clubs in the hands of over 100,000 children through junior events, training camps and school initiatives.
Li, as well as three of his compatriots in the field this week, came through this junior programme – driving home its impact on the elite level Chinese golf we see today.
Li shared memories of his experience: “When the first WGC Champions took place in 2005 I was just nine years old. In that time, it has been incredible to be part of a huge rise in interest in golf in China.
“It was a privilege to connect with some of the future stars of Chinese golf today and hopefully help set them off on their own golfing journeys.”
Two-time winner Mickelson echoed Li’s sentiments regarding golf’s development in China.
He said: “We talk about playing around the world because we want to grow the game but, in the heat of the battle of a huge event like the WGC-HSBC Champions, it can be difficult to step back and admire the bigger picture.
“I feel very proud to have been able to play a small part in growing the game in China.”
For Schauffele, his victory last year has ensured that the tournament will hold a special place in his heart.
His Chinese-speaking mother witnessed his victory in Shanghai last year, and Schauffele heads into this week impressed and inspired by the talented youngsters he has met.
‘It’s great to be back and to be able to meet these young Chinese stars”, he said.
“I’m sure some of the kids I met today will be winning global tournaments before we know it.”