Text by Andrew Chuang

 

In March, 2009, Wen-tang Lin flew to the venue of WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships. Walking into the assembly hall for registration, Lin was greeted by the thin air and cool wind of Arizona.  This marks the first time in the 21st century that a golfer from Taiwan has made it to the PGA Tour.  Lin’s small step may not mean a giant leap for the golf sport in Taiwan, but still, it is a step that has been long-awaited by golf-lovers around Taiwan.

In March 2008, Wen-tang Lin overcame the disadvantage of falling behind by two shots on Sunday and won the championship by five shots in a comeback victory in the Asian Tour International held in Thailand.  Wen-tang Lin said in the interview, “I felt that I was in pretty good shape. Last night on the phone, I told my wife I’d win.  She told me not to be too big headed.”  This victory, together with the previous ones from the 2006 Taiwan Open and 2007 Brunei Open, allowed Lin to set the record of winning championships in three consecutive years.

 
 

”I have years of experience playing the Asian Tour International,” Wen-tang Lin said. “I’ve been to almost all the host countries, and more or less made some friends. It feels quite comfortable playing golf here, except that I had to travel a lot and can’t be with my family.”  In recent years, many golfers have their eyes set on the Japanese PGA Tour, but Wen-tang Lin thinks differently.  Lin clearly knows what he wants in terms of the direction of his professional golfing career.  “If one cannot play well in the Asian Tour International, going to Japan will bring no difference. It is one thing to win the champion, but it is another to maintain stable and outstanding performance. I believe the latter is the determining factor of a professional golfer’s strengths.”  Wen-tang Lin managed to earn his place among the top ten finishers six times in 2008, and won the second place in the Pertamina Indonesia President Invitationaland Macao Open respectively. Also, Lin got the highest scores among all Taiwanese players in the WGC-HSBC Champions at Shanghai, a major tournament of Asian Tour International.  For Lin, such excellent performance not only helped him become more confident, but also taught him to enjoy golfing more.

 

Looking back on 2008, Wen-tang Lin said, “I think the biggest difference is that I was able to enjoy the tournaments more.  I learned to enjoy the audience’s cheering and to enjoy the atmosphere.  Also, I laughed more in golf matches. Such attitude is essential and makes all the difference.”  Exhaustion from flying around the world, stressful competitions, and frustrations over poor performance are the challenges that professional golfers have to face.  As it was Lin’s 10th year in the Asian Tour International, he has become more mature and stable as his skills, ability to deal with pressure have both been strengthened with years of experience, thereby preparing him for the most remarkable year of his professional golf career.

Having to be away from home frequently for tournaments, Lin spends all his spare time at home in Shinfeng, Hsinchu, with his wife and children. Even when he goes abroad for tournaments, he would use cell phones and video calls to keep in touch with his family almost daily. “I’m a family guy.  When I’m in Taiwan, I am either at home, or at the golf course,” Wen-tang Lin said. “When a professional golfer goes abroad for competitions, it’s always the family that gets most exhausted.  Their support is the most important thing for me as a professional golfer.”

In November, 2008, Wen-tang Lin left for Hong Kong to join the UBS Hong Kong Open on the European Tour and Asian Tour, which was the last major tournament at the end of the year. After four days of fierce competition, Wen-tang Lin tied with Rory McIlroy, a young gun from Northern Ireland, and the Italian player Francesco Molinari, so a playoff must be held to decide the winner. Wen-tang Lin said, “I could’ve won the championship without going to the playoff. I did get the chance, like the 4-foot birdie putt on the 18th hole, but I didn’t pull it off. That really upset me. But still, I need to leave these all behind, because I’m going to return to the teeing ground for the playoff in no time.”

After Wei-chih Yeh won the Malaysia Open in 2000, no Taiwanese player has won the European Tour-level tournaments since then. The UBS Hong Kong Open was also broadcast in Taiwan.  Wen-tang Lin made his tee shot on the first hole in the playoff, which went left into the woods. “The position of the ball was pretty awful, from which the green is barely visible,” Wen-tang Lin recalled. “I had to go all out.” He lifted the ball over the woods and it landed only one foot away from the hole. Such impressive performance allowed Lin to proceed to the second hole with a birdie, same as McIlroy. From an impossible position, he hit a birdie to tie with his rival, and turned the tables at one stroke.  In the playoff, Wen-tang Lin grabbed a birdie again on the second hole and walked away with the championship. This perfect ending surely made 2008 the Year of Wen-tang Lin and this victory also sent him from an impossible position to the world stage.

 

The championship is for those who are well prepared. The long-awaited victory has unexpectedly opened a door of opportunity for Lin. His victory in the UBS Hong Kong Open not only led him to the European Tour, but also brought him into the world’s top 50, meaning that he would have a chance to join the international tournaments of the World Golf Championships, and the Masters Tournament held at Augusta National Golf Club. Professional golf in Taiwan, after a long period of inactivity, has finally regained vitality in 2008. First, it was Yani Tseng winning the LPGA Championship. Now, Wen-tang Lin from Taiwan was about to step into the  world’s premier major golf tournament. 

 

“Going to the United States and Europe for tournaments means I have to face a totally different environment, golf course and time zone. Be it Asian Tour or European Tour, giving up the tournaments here is risky for me.” Wen-tang Lin, who has never played in the PGA Tour, said, “In the beginning, I hesitated. After all, I’m already 36, with my family and children to take care of. I have already past the age in which one can simply risk everything to fight for his dreams.” Playing in the U.S., which required much adaptation efforts, was a whole new challenge for him. With the support of his wife and father, he decides to go all out. “This isn’t a chance that comes up very often. I’m grateful for the sacrifices that my family made for me.  With their full support, I’ll do my best to conquer all the challenges.”

After the Chinese New Year, Wen-tang Lin warmed up by participating in two Asian Tour tournaments, and then flew to the United States to compete in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship and WGC-CA Championship. Different green speed, diet, and course attributes gave him a really hard time. The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship was held at a desert course located on the highlands of Arizona, with a yardage of 7833 and a golf par of 72.  Wen-tang Lin has never encountered such environment before and it was really challenging for him.  In addition to competition from other top PGA Tour players, Lin had to deal with unpredictable factors and difficulties such as the dry climate, the fast greens, and long fairways that extend over one’s imagination.

In the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, Wen-tang Lin played against the Korean American young gun Anthony Kim in the first round.  Lin was defeated on the 13th hole and Anthony Kim commented in an interview after the tournament that Wen-tang Lin seemed to have trouble mastering the distance when going for the green.
From Asia to the United States, from last century to the present, the field of PGA Tour seems distant to Taiwanese golfers. “Since I have the chance, I should take it,” Wen-tang Lin said.  Miha Singh, the Asian Tour money leader in 2008, did not know Wen-tang Lin well, but when he learned that Lin had the chance to compete in the Masters Tournament, he encouraged him to give it a try. “In the first year, I’ll take it as an opportunity to learn and to adapt to the games, to see where I stand.”

The second tournament he played was the WGC-CA Championship.  All of the world’s top players, including Tiger Woods, gathered in this tournament. Though Wen-tang Lin did not achieve an outstanding ranking in the end after the four-day competition, he still managed to shoot a 2-under 70 two days in a row.  The ability to shoot under par shows that Wen-tang Lin has what it takes to win without question. As long as he keeps a stable performance, he can still get an excellent score even in world-class tournaments such as the PGA Tour. Up next was the Masters Tournament. Wen-tang Lin arrived in the Augusta National Golf Club in early April to compete in this tournament on behalf of Taiwan. Though Lin wasn’t able to achieve the goal of moving on to the next round as he suffered greatly from the slippery green with tricky outline and the unpredictable wind of Amen Corner, he said it was indeed a very precious experience and he had gained a great lesson from it.

Busy with preparations for the U.S. tournaments, Wen-tang Lin barely has time to play in Asian games. Despite having achieved good results in international tournaments, Lin hasn’t had many opportunities to play domestic tournaments and promote professional golf in Taiwan.  However, as a token of appreciation to Taifong Golf Club’s support and dedication to domestic professional golf tournaments, Lin still participated in the fourth Taifong Open held in June, and hit a good score.

For Wen-tang Lin, 2009 has been a busy and challenging year. When he goes abroad for tournaments, he always carries a golf bag with the national flag on it, and the balls he uses in tournaments also bear the national flag of R.O.C. In his mind, Taiwan not only represents his birthplace, but also the hometown he can identify with from the bottom of his heart.  “When playing abroad, I noticed that everyone, from local people to tournament staff, showed a great deal of respect toward professional golfers.” Wen-tang Lin said. “I don’t think I am Mr. Somebody.  I just hope that through my efforts and achievements, the world will know that there are good golfers in Taiwan, too.”