Source: China State Council Information Office
China’s Zhang Xinjun will stick to the mantra “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”, as he prepares for life on the Korn Ferry Tour at the third time of asking next season.
The 34-year-old from northwestern Shaanxi province lost his PGA Tour card after a forgettable year during which he missed 20 cuts in 28 starts and registered only two top-25 finishes. In 2020, he became the first Chinese mainland golfer to qualify for the lucrative FedExCup Playoffs where he finished 78th.
He is prepared to go through the grind again on the tour’s development circuit for the next 12 months in a bid to regain his card, hoping fortune will favor the brave in his quest for success.
Zhang pointed to a loss in confidence in 2021 for his spiral in form after his usually reliable game began to waiver.
“It’s not that I didn’t play well. I had a chance to qualify for the weekend in a lot of tournaments. But on many occasions, there were some poor shots,” said Zhang.
“I think maybe my mentality changed a lot on the golf course and I did not have the self-confidence subsequently. The more I played, I had less confidence and it resulted in this year’s results.
“There were times when I couldn’t play the ball to where I wanted it to go, and I thought it was a problem with my golf swing, and then I changed a few things. The worse you play, the more you doubt yourself and I would go into tournaments thinking, ‘Can I qualify for the weekend?’ This happened many times. On the PGA Tour, each shot has to be thought through carefully. Looking back, maybe I was a little more anxious and I couldn’t adjust the rhythm of my game.”
Zhang’s three stints so far on the PGA Tour have been a mixed bag. In his debut season in 2017-18, he floundered with 15 missed cuts from 28 starts while his second attempt in 2019-20 saw him enjoy three top-10s before last season’s difficulties.
A return to the Korn Ferry Tour is welcomed by Zhang who has two wins and 11 top-10s in the secondary circuit which awards 50 PGA Tour cards every year－25 through the regular season and another 25 at the Korn Ferry Tour Finals.
His struggle to establish himself among the world’s top golfers has only made him more determined and battle-hardened.
“I started from the PGA Tour Series China to the Korn Ferry Tour and then finally the PGA Tour,” he said. “In fact, I didn’t expect it to be so smooth and thought I would need to play on the second-tier tour for a few years. The PGA Tour has top players and is very demanding.
“The Korn Ferry Tour is a good goal, especially for young Chinese athletes. The experience accumulated will help as competition is very tough and you see halfway cuts set at 4, 5 or 6 under par every week. Every professional golfer sees the PGA Tour as their ultimate goal, so they’re all fighting on the Korn Ferry Tour.”
Hard graft is nothing new for Zhang, who grew up in a farming family. He led a simple life as a child and would take daily treks to school across hilly terrain. After turning 17, he left his village to work as a security guard at a golf course in Xi’an, where he later began working on the driving range. From there, his love affair with the game developed.
After helping his province win the team golf competition at the recent National Games, Zhang, who has won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour, is now back in the US to prepare for the new season which begins in January.
He plans to analyze his statistics to sharpen his overall game.
“I’ll summarize data from this year, carefully analyze which ones were short and step up my training,” he said. “This year my numbers were not great. The tee shots were not good, and the putter was not very good too. When I played well in 2019 and 2020, I was in particularly good shape and I felt confident about moving the ball around. I don’t think it’s a bad thing I have to go back to the second-tier tour as I can hone my game there.”