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Zhou makes remarkable leap into professional golf

By Dan Washburn
November 2007
Special to ESPN.com
(Archive)

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.

Whiff.

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

Whiff.

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

Whiff.

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

发布日期:2008年07月01日
新闻来源:《假日休闲报·高尔夫周刊》

在普通人眼中,高尔夫是一项远离大众的运动,不是专业人士就没有几个普通人会想到自己能和职业高尔夫有什么关系。10年以前做保安工作的周训书也从没想到自己跟高尔夫有什么关系,但10年之后,他的身份是高尔夫职业球员

zhou-gw-11997年的一天,广州仙村高尔夫俱乐部练习场,几个高尔夫教练和工作人员围在一个高尔夫打位上熙熙攘攘。“我来,我来!”“我先试试。”几个人你一言我一语轮番登场,眼看着小白球滑出一道道美丽的弧线消失在天际。

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?

正巧负责保安的经理也在那一堆人里挥杆,他是周训书的直接领导。领导打了几个球之后,周训书终于忍不住插了句嘴,“这个东西不是很简单么。”

“很简单?那你来试一个。”经理不屑一顾的说。

“试试就试试。”周训书的犟劲儿上来了,而且他心里正憋着一股劲儿想自己感受一下这个叫做“高尔夫球”的东西。

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!”

说者无心,听者有意。这一句话,刺激了周训书,从此拉开了他高尔夫生涯的序幕……

保安工作找到高尔夫球场

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。

保安队长投身职业比赛

zhou-gw-4真正让周训书对高尔夫有所了解就是在仙村高尔夫。1997年仙村开业之后,不断有人去打高尔夫。虽然周训书不知道人们为什么要花钱来挥杆打球,但他觉着这个很简单,就拿个棍子一样的东西去挥一下。周训书开始好奇了,就拿个竹棍照猫画虎般的去挥杆。

再后来就有了练习场开始的那一幕。

被人家说了有天赋,大周兴趣来了,没事就跑到练习场找人去学球,但是没有人愿意教这样一个保安队长学打球。一气之下,周训书就自己找个木棍反复练习挥杆,希望有一天能够真正去打高尔夫球。

没有自己的球杆,周训书就拿来一个断的杆身,将杆头的位置浇筑上水泥,加重力量挥杆练臂力。力气不是白花的,后来球会允许员工通过测试后下场打球,非常想打球的大周考了两次终于考过了球场的员工测试。周训书被允许下场了。不久之后球会组织了员工比赛,大周兴冲冲地租了一套旧杆报名参加。那一次周训书清清楚楚地记着他的成绩是126杆。从那一天起,他一发不可收拾深深爱上了这项运动,有时候连做梦都梦到打球。

巧妇难为无米之炊,没有球杆周训书再有力气也使不出来啊。于是大周狠狠心花了500元,从领导那里买了一套OEM的女士杆。从1998年开始他一直用那套女杆练习,直到成绩上升到80多杆。

早年吃的苦,周训书是忘不掉的,“那时候练习场每天只给员工90颗练习球,如果全部打完了,就要自己一颗一颗拣回来才能继续打。而且只能上班前和下班后才能练习,我就天天5点起来打球。”为了节省时间多打球,周训书养成了一个习惯──在练习场打球尽量不打远,用个S杆或者P杆打80码或者100码的旗杆。这样球都在一起,捡起来也比较方便。直到现在,他在比赛之前的练习中还保留着仅仅练习短杆热身的习惯。

就这样周训书一边上班一边打球,转眼到了2003年。周训书觉得自己必须干高尔夫了,就跟仙村球会提了自己的想法,他想到练习场工作,哪怕给服务员的工资都行。球会刚开始不同意,整整折腾了一个月的时间后领导拗不过大周,就同意让他在安排好自己的工作之余去练球。当周训书的成绩达到70多杆的水平时,他又一次按捺不住了。大周跟公司提了新的要求,希望去练习场当教练,这一次他开出的条件是:“不要工资都行!”不过公司这次无论如何也没有答应他的要求。离不开高尔夫的大周打算彻底离开保安的工作,于是怀揣着自己的梦想,托了朋友辗转到广州天河体育场的练习场给一个外籍教练当助理。在那里呆了一年之后,2004年7月21日周训书正式入职九龙湖,名正言顺地当上了高尔夫教练。

2005年6月周训书辞职去了重庆发展,就到了如今所在的重庆好韵高尔夫练习场作驻场总教练。日子一天天好起来,但周训书总觉得自己的高尔夫事业缺点什么。在重庆呆一段时间后,大周偶尔从朋友那里听说有职业比赛可以参加。“哦,原来还可以参加高尔夫职业比赛啊,打比赛多带劲!”周训书恍然大悟,终于找到自己缺憾的原因了。自那以后周训书把这件事情当成了一件大事,四下打听哪里可以报名。

“你可以到网上去查一查嘛。”有朋友告诉他。于是周训书每天上网查,终于在高尔夫时代网上看到了昆明站的报名表。“我绝对是第一个报名的。填了报名表,天天等着比赛。”说起这个事情,周训书记忆犹新,“第一次只打了35名,但是我很开心,因为第一次打职业赛我就晋级了。”

球场上的火爆脾气

zhou-gw-3大周为人豪爽声如洪钟,但最开始在球场上比赛的暴脾气成了他的“标签”。

第一次在海南南燕湾高尔夫俱乐部打中国业余公开赛,大周和球童还发生了不大不小的故事。那一次是他刚刚参加职业比赛不久,走上发球台时从来没有面对过摄影记者的周训书懵了。刚一开球旁边的相机咔嚓咔嚓一顿狂拍,大周的心里就发慌,小球应声来了个大左扎。给他服务的球童是个新到球会的小男孩,从来没有见过这个阵势,手脚有些毛糙。大周心急火燎地冲着球童吼了起来,“球呢?!”这一嗓子犹如晴天霹雳,一下子把球童给吼晕了。小球童从球包里战战兢兢拿出球递给周训书时,手还在发抖。自那一嗓子,这个小球童每一洞都远远躲着大周,连看线也紧张地张冠李戴,明明是左边高,反而说成右边高。大周心里甭提多生气了,整整18洞脸色铁青。

比赛一结束,周训书要求球童主管给重新换一个球童。令大周更懊恼的是第二天一上场,球童还是这个不争气的小男孩。换球童来不及了,但比赛不能不打啊,既然改变不了,还不如好好哄哄他。为了消除球童的紧张情绪,大周拿香蕉给小球童说好话,小男孩顿时不害怕了。结果紧张情绪一消除,这个小球童反而配合地很好,后三轮表现出色。

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。

不过比赛多了,周训书开始学会控制自己的情绪,那些小故事都成了过去,他的成绩也在稳步提高。他说高尔夫正改变了自己的性格,暴躁金刚也开始温柔。

2008年大龄新人喜盈门

36岁的周训书算是职业球员中大龄新人,不过这个大龄新人还是很有福气的,2008年他的福到了。2007年11月10日,周训书在重庆结婚,2008年喜得贵子。这一下周训书家里就有三只“鼠”了,他自己属鼠,老婆和孩子也都属鼠。大周的太太是他在九龙湖的同事,夫人比他整整小了一轮,年龄的差距不妨碍他们夫妻恩爱。“她脾气也大,我脾气也大,不过我总归年龄比她大嘛,很多事情都慢慢地容忍了,现在一家人很好。”

2008年中巡赛广州站,美国NBC电视台盯上了这个有故事的人,专门前去采访他。他的故事在外国记者眼中成为了中国高尔夫发展的一个缩影。在昆明站比赛之前,周训书在上海和Titleist签约,如今他也有了自己的赞助商。

说到2008年的规划,周训书说:“2008年能够冲到前十,对家人也算有一个交待。对自己的定位是如果能够打得好,就继续打下去,如果成绩不好又没有赞助商的情况下,就会逐渐淡化比赛。毕竟我还有家庭,还需要对家庭负责。但是现在只要在打比赛,就一定努力起码做到自己不后悔。”不后悔,是他从事高尔夫的原则和信条。在高尔夫这条路上,相信他不会后悔。

个人简介: 周训书

出生:1972年12月3日
出生地:贵州毕节
籍贯:贵州毕节
所属球会:好韵高尔夫俱乐部
身高:1.77米
体重:88公斤
身份:职业教练

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