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Zhou makes remarkable leap into professional golf

By Dan Washburn
November 2007
Special to ESPN.com

zhouxunshuguangzhou031608.jpgIn 1984, when China ushered in its first modern-day golf course, Zhou Xunshu was 12 years old, living in an impoverished mountain village in the country’s midsection. At his school, light came from kerosene lamps, heat from a coal furnace in the middle of the classroom. At home, Zhou worked in the fields, cutting tall grass with a sickle. He didn’t know a sport called golf existed.

In 1994, when China first acknowledged “golf pro” as a profession, Zhou enrolled in a military-operated police school, trying to find direction in his life. He had spent the previous four years studying to pass the senior high school entrance exam — his parents had hoped he would be the first family member to do so — but schooling was never Zhou’s strong suit. Four years in a row he went through the motions, and four years in a row he failed. Now 22, Zhou had still never heard the word “golf.”

A year later, Zhou made a move that would alter the course of his life in the most unexpected way. He left police school early and hopped on a train to Guangzhou after hearing there were jobs to be had in the southern boomtown. Zhou landed a gig as a security guard … at something called a “golf course.” Things would never be the same.

In 2007, Zhou (his family name, pronounced similar to “Joe”) is finishing up his fourth year as a golf instructor. And the 35-year-old is the No. 22 golfer on China’s three-year-old pro circuit, the Omega China Tour.

Zhou’s ascension from peasant farmer to golf professional, while remarkable, is not entirely unusual in this early stage of China’s golf experience. To be sure, the sport in China, perhaps more so than anywhere in the world, is an elitist pursuit — a status symbol, like BMWs and Beaujolais, for the nation’s nouveau riche. But those who rely on golf to eke out a living tend to be a little rough around the edges, and the road that led them to the game was often a random one.

A word that Zhou often uses to describe his childhood is “ku,” which means “bitter.” Qixin, a tiny village in rural Guizhou Province, didn’t have electricity until the early 1990s, and despite China’s “opening up” in the late 1970s, the effects of the planned economy days lingered in the village throughout the 1980s (even today the average rural family in Guizhou earns less than $100 a month). Zhou talks about sharing a bed with three of his brothers inside the family’s stone home. He talks about hauling heavy loads of coal on his back 5 kilometers at a time. He talks about going hungry, looking at the family’s boxes of government-provided potatoes knowing they wouldn’t last the ever-expanding household — two parents, seven children, and various in-laws, aunts and uncles — through the winter.

“Life in the mountains was pretty tough,” Zhou says. “When we traveled into town we could see other people had better lives than us. But it’s a page of my life. Conditions were bad and there was nothing we could do about it.”

But when Zhou landed at Guangzhou International Golf Club (GIGC) in late 1995, he thought of Qixin and smiled. He saw mountains. He saw green. And he was reminded of home. He also saw, for the first time in his life, grown men using metal sticks to hit a little white ball in the grass. But that, too, seemed oddly familiar. Back in the village, while children were watching the cattle in the pasture, they’d play a game that involved balling up wads of paper and using tree branches to knock them into holes dug in the ground.

zhouxiamen08day2_450.jpg“I felt really comfortable and happy. People were playing just like back in my hometown,” says Zhou, who was also pleased with his $200 a month salary, more than four times what a security guard would have made in Guizhou.Guangzhou International is a private golf club, and in 1996 a membership there ran about $32,000, more money than a poor farm boy could fathom at the time. Being a private club, keeping up appearances was important. And one of the club’s rules stated, in no uncertain terms, that employees below a particular level of authority were not allowed to play golf. Zhou, despite overseeing a large portion of the security force (he imported most of them from Guizhou himself), fell below that particular level.

This would prove to be torturous for Zhou. One of his duties was following playing groups around the course, and reporting their whereabouts back to the clubhouse. Zhou had always been athletic, and he loved sports. It was natural that he wanted to give this new activity a try. But he couldn’t. For two years, he walked and watched.

“I really wanted to play,” Zhou said. “At night, I even dreamed about playing. But I knew the equipment was very expensive, and anyway, I had nowhere to play. It was like having a piece of meat in your mouth, but not being able to eat it. So bad.”

Then, in 1998, representatives from PING visited Guangzhou International, and Zhou looked on as the PING people, members of GIGC management and the club’s foreign golf instructors all tested out some top-of-the-line drivers. They were trying to see if anyone could hit the ball over a tree-covered hill approximately 50 yards behind the yardage marker that read “225.” A small crowd had formed, including Zhou’s immediate boss, Wang Shiwen, a serious-faced but friendly northeasterner. But no one was able to clear the trees.

Then Zhou, dressed in his security guard uniform, spoke up. “Leader,” he said, addressing Wang. “Can I have a try?”

Several in the group responded by laughing. The security guard wants to take a swing? Others teased Zhou: “This is a really expensive club,” they said. “If you break it, you’re going to have to buy it.” But Wang jumped in, “If he breaks it, I’ll buy it. Give the boy a try.”

zhouxunshuxiamen_wsg.jpgZhou, for all intents and purposes, had never swung a club before. Maybe a chip here and there when nobody was looking, but he most definitely was a novice. How would you like it if your first swings of a driver were in front of a crowd, an unforgiving one at that? But Zhou stepped forward. He removed his hat, his tie. He loosened his collar. He took the club in his hands. They were shaking.

Zhou settled himself the best he could, lined up his shot and swung.


He heard chuckles in the crowd. But he picked the ball from the rubber tee and carefully placed it back. He swung again.


More laughter. Zhou felt his face go flush. But again, he lined up the ball.


Baseball was another sport Zhou was unfamiliar with, so three strikes didn’t mean he was out. Although some in the crowd said they had seen enough, he wasn’t going to leave unless someone forced the club from his hands. He had to at least hit the ball.

And on his fourth attempt, that’s exactly what he did. He hit the ball. Long. Straight. And over the trees. The laughs were now those of disbelief.

“Some of the coaches said it was just dumb luck,” Zhou says. “I didn’t try again because I was afraid I would break the club. But that was the moment I started thinking that, if I worked hard, maybe one day I could become good at golf.”

One problem remained, however. He still wasn’t allowed to play. But Zhou was determined not to let that stop him. He had caught the bug.

He started collecting discarded and broken clubs, building up an arsenal. He dragged a worn-out driving range mat back to the workers’ dormitory. He’d hop out his first-floor window, to a narrow corridor of grass, and hit balls for hours. At night, he’d sneak out to a practice green with just a ball — no putter — and study how the ball rolled atop the curves of the closely cropped grass. He read any golf book he could get his hands on, and watched golf videos (John Daly’s “Grip It and Rip It,” to name one) in the driving range office when he was off duty. He may never have been a good student, but Zhou taught himself golf.

In 2001, Zhou returned home to Qixin for the first time in more than five years. He brought back 10 golf balls, and the villagers looked at the strange foreign spheres with wonderment and curiosity. His mother bounced one, and everybody clapped. Then some neighborhood children took the balls, and they played with them like marbles. Zhou figured he’d choose another time to explain golf to his family.

At Guangzhou International, despite all of his stealthy preparations, Zhou wasn’t able to start playing golf regularly until 2002, a full six years after he arrived at the club. Prior to then, he had little tastes of the game here and there. Bosses would leave, restrictions would loosen, and he’d be able to golf. But without fail, something would happen — for example, local farmers would sneak onto the course at night and steal tee markers to sell as scrap metal, with Zhou’s security team catching the blame — and restrictions would be tightened again. During one such low point, Zhou fashioned his own practice clubs using broken shafts. He’d fill a cut-off water bottle with wet cement and stick the shaft inside, allowing the cement to dry around it. Then he’d carry the weighted club to the dormitory roof and take practice swings, hundreds of them, every night.

zhouxunshuguangzhou0315081.jpgThere was no mistaking Zhou’s determination. He even offered to work without pay in exchange for free access to the course — twice — and was turned down both times. In the spring of 2002, Wang eventually took pity on him and, risking his own job, agreed to play with Zhou each morning at 6:30 a.m., after Zhou worked the night shift, and before most of the customers would arrive. Very few people were aware of this arrangement, and that is the way Wang and Zhou wanted it to be.

“Sometimes, if someone was coming, I’d have to go hide in the bushes,” Zhou says. “And before each swing, I’d have to look around to make sure nobody was looking. If the coast was clear, I’d swing quickly and race after the ball.”

After a year of racing around the course, Zhou was hitting in the 70s. And in 2003, he hung up his security guard uniform for good — a Guangzhou driving range hired him as an instructor. Two years later, he was teeing up in his first China Tour event. The poor boy from Guizhou was a golf pro.

Yep, just as easy as that.

Dan Washburn is a Shanghai-based writer who followed the golfers of the China Tour throughout the 2007 season. He is currently writing a book about golf in China, entitled Par for China.

20080408WSG018_kunming.jpgZHOU XUNSHU

Date of birth: December 3, 1972
Year started golf: 2001
China Tour ranking: 2007, 22nd, US$9,876 (before 20% tax); 2008, 16th, US$12,639 (before 20% tax)
Career highlights: Began 2008 China Tour season with two top-10 finishes, 6th in Guangzhou and 8th in Xiamen. Two top-10 finishes on China Tour in 2007. His previous best finish was 21st in the final event of 2006.
Current job: Head pro at Hao Yun (Good Rhythm) Golf Club, a driving range in Chongqing.
Personal: Married in November 2007. One son, born April 2008.
Hometown: Qixin Village, Guizhou Province, Central China
Current residence: Chongqing Municipality, Central China
Swing: Had unorthodox swing early on because he was self-taught, which led to back problems. Still has short backswing, but according to Jim Johnson, of CPI Golf, the China Tour’s official golf academy, “His swing is pretty solid, pretty simple. It works. It may look a little funny, but it is technically OK. He’s got a short backswing, but he’s really strong. His calves, they are like iron.” CPI has Zhou rated as the longest hitter on the China Tour.
Sponsors: Other than his clothing and equipment sponsors, Zhou has none. He estimates that he lost more than $2,500 on the tour in 2006. He probably broke even in 2007. While few players on the China Tour have official sponsors, many have at least their travel expenses (around $10,000 for the year) paid for by a golf club or even local businessmen. Zhou admits he is not very good at networking, and is “too proud” to ask for sponsorship. “I’d love to have a setup like that,” Zhou said. “That way I don’t have to worry about economics. I can just focus on playing.”
Schedule: Zhou runs at 6:30 am, then heads straight to the driving range where he practices until noon and then gives lessons, sometimes until midnight. “If I do not teach, I cannot make money,” Zhou says. Observes Johnson, “You can see Zhou, he’s hungry. He’s looking for ways to improve. A lot of these guys out here, it’s just play. It’s calm, hang out with the guys, smoke cigarettes. It’s not serious, they’re not serious. But Zhou is serious.”
Coach: Michael Dickie, Shanghai Silport David Leadbetter Golf Academy

Zhou’s bio on the China Tour website

周训书 从保安队长到职业球员




身穿保安制服的周训书就站在旁边,这个场景显然对他来说既熟悉又陌生。看着这一幕,他的脑海中再次徘徊着一个困扰了很久的疑问,“为什么把这个小白球 打起来的人个个显的牛哄哄的?他们到底在搞什么?”而这一串串疑问和他担任的仙村高尔夫保安主管的工作毫不相干。虽然在这里工作了一段时间,但周训书依然 对自己所在的这个地方和一批批背着大包来打球的人依然感到很好奇。因为他不明白,为什么那么多人花钱跑到这里来抡各种棍子一般的球杆;他更不明白,为什么 他们要一杆杆打那些不起眼的小白球。在他的心目中,抡棍子不是很容易么?




经理递上了一支铁杆,却被周训书挡了回去。周训书摇摇头说,“这个多没意思,我打那个头大的,那个玩意儿好玩。”顺着周训书指的方向,那是一支 Callaway的一号木。说话之间,穿着保安制服的周训书掳胳膊挽袖子上阵了。拿起那支一号木,大周使出了吃奶的力气“嗡”的一声,球杆抡得呼呼挂风, 而小球却纹丝未动。

挥了两下没打到球之后,周训书有点不好意思了,毕竟7尺高的汉子还是好面子的。没等别人开口,个性耿直的大周主动发话,“我再打一次,如果再打不到 球,我就不打了!”当周训书第三次站在垫子上,抡圆了胳膊“乓”的一下击中了小球,这一下又直又远。所有的人都惊呆了──球飞了300多码啊!原来这一杆 周训书的球打到了练习场对面的小山后面,要知道球会开业以来还没有哪个人能打到那个位置。经理一拍周训书的肩膀,“妈呀……,大周!谁是人才?你小子就是 个人才!还没人能打过那个山,看来你在高尔夫上面确实有天赋!”



zhou-gw-2出生在贵州毕节农村的周训书从小读书的经历就与众不同,而这不同和他的火爆脾气有关。周训书9岁开始读书,生性调皮的他在学校里是出了名的不好惹。谁 要是招惹了他,他肯定跟人家没完没了。“人不犯我,我不犯人;人要犯我,决不能忍”说的就是那个时候的周训书。他在学校闯了祸,老师管教不了就到他的父亲 那里去告状,一而再再而三,一转眼状告到了四年级。周父觉得老师实在管不了了,就拽着耳朵让周训书回家干农活。在家里“老实”了两年之后,周训书呆不住 了,他主动和老爸申请回学校读书。父亲看他“乖了”而且老在家呆着也不是个办法,于是就让他返回学校。两年没上课,等再去上课他就只能跟着二年级的学生一 起上了。这一来二去,耽误了不少年头,等周训书初中毕业的时候,他已经18岁了。

那一年夏天,周训书到镇上参加高中升学考试,用他的话说镇上的教室是“从来没见过的白花花的墙,高高的楼,考试还有保安巡逻。”头一次见到这种阵势的 周训书懵了,坐在考场里手心脚心发汗,结果自然是没有考上。周训书的家里有6个孩子,他排行第5。家里都把希望寄托在他和最小的弟弟身上,但没有办法的他 只好到隔壁的镇上去读了一个差一些的中专。4年的中专生活很快就过去了,毕业后周训书又选择去了遵义的一个武警培训学校上学,因为听人家说“在那里培养一 些技能就可以联系工作”。

1995年10月份大周找到了第一份工作──在贵阳当保安,一个月仅有350元。这样的收入维持生活都成了困难,那个时候赶上南下打工潮,大周听朋友 说到南方挣钱工资比较高,一个月能挣千把元。这让周训书羡慕不已,于是他辞了职背起行囊跟着武警学校的团队坐上了南下的列车。

等到了广东东莞的人才市场,周训书才发现并不是像中介保证的那样来了就有工作,还要等着介绍工作机会。但既然来了,大周就没打算马上回去。中介联系来 联系去,就把周训书介绍到了广东峰景高尔夫球场工作,不过当时那个球场还没有开业,还在推土阶段。球会的总经理见到了周训书体格很棒,就安排他当上了保安 队长,这是他的人生第一次和高尔夫球场发生了联系。在峰景呆了5个月之后,周训书辗转到了仙村高尔夫俱乐部工作,他清楚地记得那是1996年3月15日。















后来的比赛大周有了经验,脾气急不跟球童较劲了,但打不好球就开始跟自己较劲。有的时候在果岭上推杆失误,他不能对同组的球员发脾气,只好冲自己来。 2006年世界风杯,第13洞果岭,大周推球失误特别恼火,为了发泄他“哎”了一声扬手“啪啪”就给来了自己两巴掌,戏剧性的一幕让同组球员都看得目瞪口呆。






个人简介: 周训书



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