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The Loop

Course-record 64 puts Liang in contention

August 14, 2010

HAVEN, Wis. -- Three years ago, Wen-Chong Liang became the first golfer from mainland China to play in the PGA Championship. Liang missed the cut at Southern Hills, but in this year's PGA -- after a stunning, competitive course-record 64 Saturday at Whistling Straits to vault from T-40 to T-4 and get within four strokes of 54-hole leader Nick Watney -- Liang is in position to truly make a name for himself. [#image: /photos/55ad7288b01eefe207f69258]|||gwar01_liang_0814.jpg|||

Not that Liang, a 32-year-old from Zhongshan, China, whose first taste of the game was hitting a ball with a bamboo stick, hadn't gone low before. En route to winning the 2008 Hero Honda Indian Open, Liang shot a 60. But his Saturday afternoon stroll next to Lake Michigan, which put him at nine-under 207, was a cut above because of the circumstances.

"This is special, besides the score, because this is a major," Liang said through interpreter David Lee. "And also it makes people realize that there are actually professional golfers in China. So this is a very special round."

Liang was introduced to golf because his mother worked on the greenkeeping staff at Zhongshan Hot Spring GC, which opened in 1984 and was the first course in modern China. Around his 15th birthday, Liang, whose parents are rice farmers, was among 30 children from his school picked by the course's general manager to learn the game.

After turning pro in 1999, Liang took his game on the road, with an individualistic, flat swing. In the last three years he has been working hard with Australian instructor Kel Llewellyn. As he described it Saturday, when he went out of his way in a press conference to thank Llewellyn, it has been a drastic evolution.

"Basically it's a total rebuild," Liang said, "from stance to grip to takeaway to downswing -- everything."

Liang arrived at Whistling Straits ranked No. 78 on the World Ranking and has been playing well lately in Asia with top-five finishes in his last three starts. "I'm more relaxed and very comfortable with my swing," Liang said. "And I know to remain calm, not let the major pressure get to me."

Before Liang turned pro in 1999, he didn't even know there were four majors. Now, remarkably, he has a chance to win one of them.

"Basically in golf, you have to perform," Liang told Golf World during the 2007 PGA. "Your record tells the story. Of course my parents are happy. They have been rice farmers for 20 or 30 years. Now they have a son who is able to make a good living as a golfer."

Sunday, Liang will be in position to make more than a big check.

-- Bill Fields

(Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images)