Chinese events bring interesting questions

Originally Published: May 18, 2005
By Dan Washburn | Special to ESPN.com

SHANGHAI – "How many pairs of trousers did you bring?"

This is the type of question the media asks the 12th-ranked golfer in the world – when he's playing in China, that is. And this, naturally, is the follow-up: "What colors are they?"

Ernie Els
Dan WashburnEls was inundated with questions while competing in China, but many of them had nothing to do with golf.

The answer was six.

Luke Donald, the world's top-ranked Englishman, packed six pairs of pants for two weeks in China last month. Black, navy, light blue, white and red. He couldn't remember the color of the last pair, but the reporter – covering the Johnnie Walker Classic in Beijing – seemed satisfied by the answer.

"You get some very random questions," said the 27-year-old, who left China earlier this month with two top-10 finishes to go with all of his trousers. He finished ninth in Beijing and tied for sixth in Shanghai, site of the BMW Asian Open. But really, who cares about boring details like those when you can ask a man about his pants instead?

"I kind of half-expect it," Donald said of the odd queries. "The media over here are pretty intense with the pictures. There are so many of them. Some of them can be a little fanatical."

Professional golf tournaments, especially big ones like the Johnnie Walker and BMW – both stops on the European Tour – are still a relatively new phenomenon in mainland China. And many members of the local media, rather green when it comes to golf coverage, approach it with a very unique perspective. It's a novelty. To many, the least interesting aspect of a golf tournament is the golf itself.

I think Colin Montgomerie is quite well known around the world, but when the lady stood up to ask him a question, she asked for 'the gentleman in the red shirt.'
Ernie Els

Just ask Adam Scott. The young Australian, ranked No. 7 in the world, was quite a hit in Beijing, and it had little to do with the fact that he ended up winning the Johnnie Walker. Here's a sampling of the questions he faced from the giggly local media at the tournament's opening press conference:

  • "Most of us think, I think all of us think, you are the most handsome and youngest golfer, and you are my idol. So do you feel pressure that you are the most handsome?"
  • "You have very outstanding looks, so after you achieve what you want to achieve in golf, would you consider maybe being an entertainer?"
  • "You are young, handsome and you are one of the favorite golf players among the Chinese audience, especially girls, so could you say some words to our TV audience?"

    Scott's response to the final question was even-handed, at best: "Well ..." – most responses to questions posed by the Chinese media begin with "Well ..." – "It's nice to be here in China for the first time. And I look forward to playing this week, and hopefully everyone will come out and watch and support (me) and I'll try and play my best and make some birdies."

    Scott made many birdies for the girls of Beijing, but he did not play in Shanghai. World No. 3 Ernie Els did, however, and the South African rightfully assumed the role of main attraction at the $1.5 million tournament. Most members of the local media even knew his name. That wasn't the case for every international star playing in Shanghai.

    "It was funny," Els said of the pre-tournament press conference. "We were standing in the media center. There were six of us standing there. And I think Colin Montgomerie is quite well-known around the world, but when the lady stood up to ask him a question, she asked for 'the gentleman in the red shirt.' "

    After his opening-round 5-under 67 put him in a seven-way tie for the tournament lead, Els, alone this time, faced a media center that was overflowing. Many questions posed to him were typical. There were questions about the course, the heat and Els' swing – which, after a rather stunning 13-stroke victory in Shanghai, he apparently has successfully repaired. But when it came time for the local reporters to ask their questions, what was the hot topic? Els' private jet.

    "I can understand the questions," said Paul Dong, a producer with China Central Television's English-language station who serves as translator at many golf events in China. He relays all questions – regardless of their relevance – earnestly, with nary a smirk.

    "Because golf is still so young in China," Dong explained, "to attract some people who possibly may become potential fans of golf, they need some other aspect of the players and the game to attract their interest. The audience, the readers and the fans are so much different from Western target audiences – you must be prepared for different questions."

    And no matter how "different" the Chinese media's questions may be, it's Western reporters who win the stupid-questions-asked contest. Hands down.

    After all, it wasn't a Chinese journalist who asked Jim Gallagher Jr. what his father's name was.

    Dan Washburn is a Shanghai-based writer. Visit him online at http://www.shanghaidiaries.com.

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