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Teen sensation causes flap at Swiss golf tourney

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Teen sensation causes flap at Swiss golf tourney
Golfers in the mountain resort of Crans-Montana. Photo: Valais tourisme
12:54 CEST+02:00
Former Ryder Cup winner Miguel Angel Jimenez has questioned the appearance of a 13-year old Chinese amateur in this week's Omega European Masters field at the Swiss mountain resort of Crans-Montana.

Ye Wo-cheng created history earlier this year when he became the youngest player, at 12 years and 242 days, to compete in a European Tour event when he qualified for the Volvo China Open.

Now Ye, who is a product of a youth programme launched six years ago by the Chinese Golf Association with the backing of the country's leading bank, HSBC, will become the youngest ever to play on European soil.

In April, 14-year-old countryman Guan Tianlang became the youngest to compete at the Masters, and despite being penalised a stroke for slow play, still managed to finish the leading amateur.

Jimenez late last year secured the honour of becoming the oldest-ever winner of a European Tour event at 48 years and 318 days in capturing the Hong Kong Open, however he is at odds with sponsors, Omega in bringing Ye to the Swiss Alps to compete.

"It is nice to see that golf is interesting no matter what the age but for me, a 13-year-old competing against professionals is a little a bit too young," said the Spaniard.

"People want to start to do things too early and a 13-year-old should be playing alongside other 13-year-olds and not players averaging 33 years of age.

"No doubt the sponsor wants publicity for the tournament but then it seems you have to go looking for under age players to promote yourself.

"I'm sorry this should not be allowed."

Jimenez said it wasn't good for a young player's development to find himself up against professionals.

"They should not be pushing kids his age too hard as it could have a disastrous effect on their careers," he added.

"I hope he enjoys himself this week but then I saw him hitting practice balls this morning and he looked very nervous, and he should not be in that position."

However, fellow former European Masters winner Mathias Gronberg disagrees with Jimenez.

Swede Gronberg, who is 30 years older than Ye, with whom he will be partnered, can see the promotional worth of having the teenager in the field.

"It's going to be awesome playing with the young fellow and I will look forward to it," he said.

"It is where the game is at the present time and as golfers, we are in the entertainment business and it's a sport there for the crowds.

"I am sure there will be hundreds of thousands Chinese people that will tune into the golf on TV this week just to watch and follow Ye compete here in Switzerland.

"So it would be absolute silly not to market that opportunity and I am sure the Masters officials were pleased and happy when that 14-year-old, also from China, did so well to make the cut and then finish the leading amateur.

"I had the same view when (American) Michelle Wie played up here (in 2006 at age 17) and also in the John Deere Classic because it is sponsors who pay our salary."

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