Liang becomes first Chinese player to win Asian Tour Order of Merit

Updated: December 9, 2007, 8:18 AM ET

BEIJING -- Liang Wenchong became the first Chinese player to win the Asian Tour Order of Merit on Sunday, taking another step on what he hopes will be a journey to the very top of the sport.

The 29-year-old has now clearly established himself as China's best golfer and if hard work was any guarantee of success, it would be tough to bet against him achieving his goal.

After picking up the sport while working as a caddie at the first course built on the mainland under Communist rule, Liang followed closely in the footsteps of China's golfing trailblazer Zhang Lianwei.

Liang and Zhang are the only two Chinese players to have played in a major and the only two to have won European Tour tournaments but on Sunday, the younger man claimed a title his mentor has never captured.

It was Liang's victory in March's Singapore Masters -- Zhang also won the event back in 2003 for his only European Tour title -- that set the Zhongshan native on his way to being crowned No. 1 in Asia.

That win also earned Liang a two-year exemption on the European Tour, forcing him to reassess his idea of using the Japan Tour as a stepping stone to the riches of the PGA Tour.

"I didn't expect to win in Singapore. It changed my whole plan for my career," Liang said last month.

"Winning it hasn't changed me mentally," he added.

"My work habits have stayed the same and my direction is the same. Winning has made me more determined, I want to go up a level. But you can only go forward step-by-step, little-by-little.

"Only then can you reach your goal. Golf is something where you have to do the little things, the little things. Only time and effort can get you there."

Liang, who won China's amateur Open for three years in a row starting in 1996 and turned professional in 1999, has an unorthodox swing with a baseball-style follow-through but hundreds of hours on the driving range have forged it into an effective tool.

As personable and polite as any Chinese athlete, Liang is not afraid to speak his mind on subjects close to his heart.

He has taken to task his fellow Chinese players for staying at home and not testing themselves at a higher level and criticized tournament organizers over the lack of opportunities for locals at some of the rich co-sanctioned events in China.

After winning the 2006 China Tour Championship and again after his breakthrough triumph in Singapore he said he would put the prize money toward the development of young Chinese players.

Ultimately, Liang hopes to create an academy at Zhongshan's Chun Shan Hot Springs club, the course just across the border from Macau where he once carried the bags of wealthy businessmen.

Liang had his first taste of the big time when he accepted an invitation to play at this year's PGA Championship and even missing the cut at Southern Hills has not dimmed his ambition.

"Wanting to win a major is easy to say, but if you want to win one you need a series of platforms to get you there," he explained.

"A lot of players don't understand that you have to aim first for each of those platforms. Then, step-by-step, you can get closer."