Nicklaus: China is golf’s sleeping giant

Jack Nicklaus is the latest golfing great to predict China to become a dominant force in world golf.

The winner of 18 major championships, Nicklaus believes that by 2022, China might boast as many as five of the world’s top 10 golfers.

Jack Nicklaus Jack Nicklaus

This seems quite staggering considering China currently boasts just one player in the top-500 on the world rankings and that is the country’s leading player, Liang Wen-chong ranked 274th (as at February 28) while China’s second-best world ranked golfer is Zhang Xin-jun who is ranked a lowly 621st.

Yet Nicklaus believes the introduction of golf into the 2016 Olympics has the potential to change the sport dramatically and rapidly.

Speaking at a State of the Industry round-table discussion organised by the Professional Golfers’ Association of America, Nicklaus said: “The way they go after sports I wouldn’t be surprised, in 10 years, to see five of the top 10 players in the world come from China.

“It wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Could be an exaggeration, but maybe not.”

Nicklaus also believes that with golf poised to become an Olympic sport there will be an upsurge of interest in India, Russia and Brazil, which in 2016 will stage the first Olympic golf tournament since 1904.

Between them, China and India have 36 percent of the world’s population – 1.3 billion and 1.2 billion respectively – and the game is already being taken to them.

The Volvo China Open is again on the European Tour schedule for the ninth time in April while the HSBC Champions has been staged in Shanghai for the past seven seasons and the last four World Cups have been at Mission Hills, while February saw the third staging of the Avantha Masters in New Delhi.

“All of these places have really supported Olympic sports,” said The Golden Bear.

“The Gold Medal has always been the prize.

“It’s not the Masters and USPGA or the British Open – it’s been the gold medal.

“Well, if golf is successful in the Olympics all of these countries will grow their game and will bring people into the game.

“Frankly, we are going to have figure out a way to keep pace.”

That is why Nicklaus is backing a PGA of America initiative to boost interest again, with the idea of ‘making golf more fun and making it faster and making it easier and making it less expensive.

“I love this game, I’ve always loved the game,” Nicklaus said.

“I don’t play it as much anymore, but I want to see it continue and grow. I’ve seen what’s happened over the past few years.”

“It’s pretty accurate on these stats I think – we’ve lost 23 percent of the women and 36 percent of the kids in the game since 2006.”

The 72-year-old Nicklaus also believes there is a need for more connection between club golfers and top players.

“Can you imagine a club champion going out and playing a 7,500-yard course and playing Tiger [Woods] or Phil [Mickelson] and beating them?,” he asked.

“Not a chance in this world. The game has changed, it’s gone beyond being able to relate back to the people and that’s a shame.

“We’ve lost that and we need to bring that back.”