HAIKOU, Hainan, China — What happens when you combine golf’s world no. 1 with his heir apparent, the heir apparent’s heir apparent, solar-powered golf carts, 15,000 acres of lava fields, tropical climes, 120 junior golfers, 20,000 spectators, a bit of Chinese numerology and healthy dose of dragons, tigers and snakes? You get The Match at Mission Hills, contested here on Monday at Mission Hills Resort Haikou and won by Rory McIlroy by a stroke over Tiger Woods, 67-68.
The Match itself was the main event but only a portion of the spectacle.
Indeed, The Match at Mission Hills did more than bring together golf’s two most compelling personalities in head-to-head competition. The inclusion of Guan Tianlang, the Chinese amateur phenom who famously made the cut at this year’s Masters, brought together at Mission Hills three separate generations of golfers, each representing not just a different demographic but the three main epicenters of world golf.
• Tiger Woods is nearly 40 years old and North American, with 14 Majors under his belt. • Rory McIlroy is his Irish heir apparent, just 24 and representing the European sphere. • Guan Tianlang is fully 10 years younger than Rory and represents not just the next generation of competitive golfer, but an all new source of talent: Asia, in general, and China in particular.
The inter-generational aspect was not lost on Woods nor McIlroy. “In the last 12, 13 years, I've seen the growth and development of these junior golfers, and Guan making it to the Masters at age 14 just goes to show you what's going to happen — and what's going to come down the pipeline the next 15, 20 years,” Woods said during his post match press conference. “It’s going to be quite amazing to see.”
McIlroy saw another relevant factor that will affect player development in Asia and everywhere else: “I think the inclusion of golf in the Olympics is a great thing. You are going to see a lot of new people and new countries and junior golfers come into golf because it's an Olympic sport. It's great for the growth of the game.”
The Mission Hills Group is owned and administered by two brothers, Chairman Ken Chu and Vice Chairman Tenniel Chu. Ken Chu was asked during the post-Match press conference what he made of the spectacle.
“Have you seen the movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon? It's a very popular Chinese movie,” Chu said, turning to Woods. “Your name is Tiger, I was born in the year of Tiger, so we're Tigers.
“And then Rory, you're born in the year of the snake, so snake in Chinese is also known as the dragon — and Tenniel was born in the year of the dragon. So that's where we have something in common. It's the crouching Tiger and flying Dragon.”
Ken Chu also noted that it’s been 12 years since Tiger’s last visit to Mission Hills, which was Woods’ first-ever visit to China invited by Mission Hills’ late founder, Dr. David Chu.
“Twelve is a very meaningful, very special number to Chinese,” he explained. “There’s 12 hours in a clock, 12 months in a year, 12 zodiacs, 12 animals in the Chinese calendar year, as well. So 12, it's a complete circle. We are very proud, very honored to play host to your very first visit to China, and after 12 years, also playing host to your first visit to Hainan Island. So it's a wonderful relationship that we have had, created, and thank you for all your support of China golf development. We appreciate it.”