by Sean Martin
SHENZHEN, China – China’s Wenyi Huang grew up in poverty. His family’s house didn’t have electricity until he was in junior high school. He didn’t start playing golf until five years ago, when he was a worker at a golf course.
His story is similar to that of PGA champion Y.E. Yang. Huang could join Yang at next year’s Masters if he continues to play like he did Friday.
Huang, 27, had the honor of hitting the first tee shot in Asian Amateur history Thursday. He moved into contention one day later with a 5-under 67 at Mission Hills’ World Cup Course that matched the low score of the day.
Huang is at 3-under 141, six shots off the lead held by Australia’s Jordan Sherratt (67) and South Korea’s Chang-Won Han (69). New Zealand’s Peter Spearman-Burn (68) is in third place, two shots back.
“I grew up as a poor kid,” Huang said. “What I have been through has made me tougher, and I can handle a lot of difficulties and challenges.”
Sherratt, 21, is No. 26 in the Golfweek/amateurgolf.com World Amateur Rankings. He played amateur golf in the United States and Canada this summer, winning the Barrett Amateur over defending champion Dylan Frittelli. The Barrett is one of the top amateur events in Canada.
Sherratt missed a 2-foot par putt on his first hole Friday but rebounded with six birdies.
When the field was announced, eight of the top 11 players were Aussies or Kiwis, according to the R&A World Amateur Rankings. Players from Australia and New Zealand are included in the Asian Amateur field because their countries are members of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation.
Sherratt, Han and Spearman-Burn will have a diverse field of challengers over the weekend, though. The top nine players on the leaderboard hail from seven countries. South Korea, with Han and Tae-Hoon Song (T-5), and The Philippines, with Mhark Fernando (4th) and Antonio Asistio (T-5), are the only countries with multiple players in the top nine.
“I am not really surprised by the strength of the field,” Sherratt said. “There are a lot of good players in Asia.”
Han established himself as one of the region’s best players by winning the individual championship at last month’s Nomura Cup, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Team Championship. South Korea won the team title.
“I am a calm and patient person, and that helps me to play consistently,” Han said. “I didn’t play with any pressure today, and I feel that will allow me to play my best game tomorrow and the day after.”
Sixteen players from 10 countries are at 2 under or better. South Korea has four players in that group, while Australia, the Philippines and China have two players apiece.
India’s Rashid Khan, winner of the past two Faldo Series Asia Grand Finals at Mission Hills, is tied for fifth place at 4 under with Song and Asistio. The Faldo Series Asia Grand Final brings together players who qualified at events throughout the continent.
Huang and 16-year-old Steven Lam are tied for eighth. Lam, the Hong Kong Amateur champ, holed a 100-yard shot with his 52-degree wedge for an eagle 2 on No. 3.
Huang said he ran into Gary Player in Mission Hills’ gym Thursday and received advice that has helped him this week.
“Gary Player should take the credit for my good performance today,” Huang said. “He is a very warm and welcoming person. He told me not to think about my swing but focus on my body, and it worked.”
Sixty players made the 36-hole cut at 5 over par.
Northwestern sophomore Eric Chun, who is representing South Korea, also made a large move, shooting 68 to go from T-41 to T-10 at 2-under 142.
A victory by a Korean player would give the country two amateur players in the 2010 Masters, the same number as the United States. Byeong-Hun An is exempt into the event by virtue of his U.S. Amateur victory.