SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — There is nothing sports fans embrace more than a good Cinderella story and a doozy of one emerged Friday at the PGA Championship.
Little known Chinese pro Haotong Li birdied three of his first five holes and rode that momentum all the way up the leaderboard. Halfway through the second round, he stood tied at the top with Jason Day at 8-under par.
But there was kicker to this story. Li is sponsored by WeChat, a popular Chinese-based social media app that President Donald Trumph has issued an executive order banning its use in the United States.
As he stood before the media following his round, wearing his WeChat emblazoned hat, the questions came. And like a pro, Li deflected them.
“I’ve been associated with them (WeChat) for a long time — three years,” he said.
When asked about Trump’s order, Li wasn’t about to enter the debate, simply answering: “I don’t know, who knows.”
There were several aw-shucks moments during the 11-minute plus meeting with reporters, who were both at the course and on zoom because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Li seemed to be just as stunned by his play as were many of the world’s best golfers gathered at San Francisco’s TPC Harding Park.
And who would blame him. He missed the cut at the Memorial two weeks ago and finished tied for 74th last week. Li’s best showing on the Tour has been a third-place finish at the 2017 Open Championship.
Li added back-to-back birdies at No. 9 and No. 10 Friday to extend his lead and played bogey-free golf the rest of the round as other more well known names faltered.
“The last couple days, I’ve been pretty much all hit in the right spots,” Li said. “Even (when I) miss the greens I got a chance to (get) up and down. Also a lot of good lies in the rough.”
Li hasn’t had a top 10 in any of the eight tournaments he has played around the world this year. He also is coming off a disastrous Presidents Cup debut in which he played only the minimum matches.
When asked if he felt added pressure to be the first major golf champion from China, he just shrugged his shoulders.
“I have no expectations, actually,” he said with a chuckle. “Because the last few months I’ve been home doing nothing. So I just want to come here and have fun.”
Did he do anything special this week, he was asked.
“I didn’t ever think I could play like this,” he said. “I had no confidence… (It probably) helped me to clear my mind.”
When asked about how he was going to prepare for the weekend, Li gave another shrug.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do” he said. “Just play golf.”
Can he imagine what it would be like to win and what impact it would have on his life?
“I still got 2 rounds left — a long way to go,” he said. “So I just want to play my best. If it happens, it happens.”
Li — who famously shot a sensational round of 63 during the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale — has earned the respect of his fellow professionals even if there’s still room for improvement. Among them is his teammate at last year’s Presidents Cup in Melbourne, Australia’s Adam Scott, who was at 2-under par at the end of Friday’s play.
“We don’t see that kind of consistency out of him and that probably matches his personality a bit,” Scott said. “He’s young though and that’s the kind of golf he plays. He plays pretty much all guns blazing and when it comes off, it’s really good.”