China’s Li Haotong shot a closing 63 to finish third in his British Open debut, six shots behind winner Jordan Spieth.
After a steady start to his round, with a string of seven pars, Li slipped into gear from the eighth hole, picking up shots on seven of the last 11 holes to post a 63 – the lowest return in the field in the final round.
“It feels awesome, unbelievable. I can’t explain it but it means a lot,” said Li, 21, after his round. “For some reason, from hole number eight I started to hole everything.
“It was more of a mental thing. When I hit a bad shot I just told myself to hang in there and try to hole the putt. Then I started to hole everything so I was quite happy out there.”
Li’s playing partner was Ernie Els, who rates Li’s performance as highly as the 62 shot by Els’ South African countryman Branden Grace in yesterday’s third round.
“Because of the wind and the flag positions, 63 in a final round is unbelievable,” said Els. “Branden has the record, absolutely done and dusted, but today’s round is as good. It’s not the same number, but it’s the same quality golf.
“Haotong was playing good and making putts and he had a nice attitude. I could see he wasn’t backing off. You see some guys get a little bit scared but he kept going. It was really special to see.”
For his part, Li was grateful for the support he received from Els, a four-time major winner and twice the Open champ, in 2002 and 2012.
“Ernie is such a nice guy,” said Li. “Especially over the last few holes, he gave me a lot of encouragement.”
In addition to becoming the youngest Chinese golfer to play in The Open, no other Chinese player has ever finished in the top-60 or even posted a round in the 60s in the storied championship. Li shot 69-73-69-63 this week.
“Playing in The Open is a big step for me,” he adds. “Hopefully I can qualify for more majors in the future. I have played in the U.S. Open once, now The Open, and I look forward to one day playing in the PGA Championship and the Masters too”.
Li’s third-place finish does qualify him for at invitation to the 2018 Masters.
Haotong Li is a brand ambassador for Mercedes-Benz – an Official Patron and the Official Car of The Open.