“Last Call,” my Golf World cover story from Nov. 9, 2009

As China readied to host a $7 million WGC event, local golf pros who pioneered the sport face a new reality: The party may be winding down for them.

China’s most unlikely golf champ took his seat at a neighborhood restaurant in the dark, sooty suburbs near Beijing’s international airport and declared, “I like to drink.” Before long he was chugging cold Yanjing beer and gnawing on stewed pig intestines. He closed the place down, outlasting even the shirtless kitchen workers who were smoking cigarettes and playing cards at a corner table.

This is how Jian Chen unwinds the week of a tournament. But it’s a safe bet the 33-year-old was eating and drinking like this long before he ever heard of golf, a serendipitous discovery that happened less than a decade ago.

Chen’s rise from farmer to head waiter to obscure pro golfer — now, slightly less obscure — mirrors the random trajectories followed by the majority of the Chinese men who toil on their country’s domestic golf circuit. Most of them stumbled into the sport accidentally and relatively late, bringing personal histories almost unheard of in the Western world of contemporary professional golf. Read the story