Li Singing The Praise Of Irish-Born Early Career Coach

China’s Haotong Li was singing the praise of Ireland-born Paul McLoughlin in superbly seizing the PGA Championship lead in adding  a 65 to his opening 67 for a two shot lead at eight-under par in San Francisco.

Li was out in the second group on Friday morning and at the end of a long day he was clear of six players in second place at six-under par.

They included England’s Tommy Fleetwood (64), Aussie Jason Day (69), Americans Daniel Berger (67), Brooks Koepka (67), Justin Rose (68) and Frenchman Mike Lorenzo-Vera (68).

Li created a first in Chinese golf to become the first player in history to be leading a major championship after two rounds as he now seeks to also become a first-born Chinese winner.

The 25-year old has six pro wins in his career with a best result in brilliantly coming from behind to deny Rory McIlroy in a play-off for the 2018 Omega Dubai Desert Classic title.

The now San Diego-based Li picked-up his five birdies in the opening 10 holes before posting eight straight pars.

“The last couple days I’ve been pretty much all hit in the right spot,” he said.

“Even if I miss the green, I still got a chance to up-and-down, and also got a lot — good lie in the rough.”

Li also is no stranger to going low in a major having shot a final round 63 to grab third place behind Jordan Spieth at Royal Birkdale.

“That was a long time ago,” he said with an all too familiar laugh.

“Yeah, definitely good to have that experience in my mind, and definitely will help to play the next two rounds.”

Li grew-up in Shanghai and his golf skills came under the influence of Dublin-born PGA professional Paul McLoughlin who at the time was Director of Golf at the prestigious Lake Malaren club outside the Chinese financial capital.

And no doubt it was the advice of McLoughlin that Li made the decision to turn pro in 2011 at the tender age of just 16.

“I helped him when he was starting out and the backing he got from Lake Malaren was phenomenal,” said McLoughlin in the Irish Independent.

“I even travelled to Fota Island with him when he got an invitation to play in the Irish Open at the age of 17 (in 2014) and we became friends.”

And Li was asked about McLoughlin’s contribution to his career after Friday’s historic round.

“Paul helped me a lot, especially when I first turned pro, the first couple years, so I am very grateful to him,” said Li.

“He taught me so much about the game and it was the confidence he gave me that saw me make the decision to turn pro.”

McLoughlin also worked in Poland and the U.S.  He returned home a few years back to set-up TMG – The McLoughlin Group.

And while Li has shown he can go low, and also gained attention in beating McIlroy, the Chinese golfer is best known for a famous incident during the 2017 French Open in Versailles.

Li hurled his putter into the water surrounding the 11th green after three-putting during the first round. About 20 minutes later, the then 21-year-old’s mother was pictured wading knee-deep into the water to recover the club that could be seen partially sticking out of the water.

However, she had the likes Tyrrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters, and Alex Noren, and who were playing the 11th at the time mum took the plunge, in stitches in holding just one half of the broken club.

England’s Tommy Fleetwood and American Cameron Champ posted the then lowest rounds on day two with six-under par 64s to be sharing second place on six-under par.

Former Irish Open winner Paul Casey shot a 67 to be in eighth place tied in the clubhouse with the in-form Brendon Todd (70) and Cameron Champ (64).

Casey, 35, captured his then 12th of 14 European Tour wins with victory by three shots in the 2013 Irish Open at Carton House.

Seven years earlier in 2006, Casey endeared himself to all Irish fans when he became one of only six players to make a hole-in-one at a Ryder Cup after his ace on the 213-yard 14th hole in the Friday afternoon Foursomes.

It helped hand him and playing partner David Howell a 5 & 4 victory of the Americans Zach Johnson and Stewart Cink.

Casey’s San Francisco second round was a bogey-free display of three pars.

“I played really well. I mean, glorious day for golf,” he said.

“It’s weird, the first three days of practice that I saw here at Harding Park were — presented an incredibly difficult test of golf, and then the last two days have been quite generous actually which is nice as a player.

“It’s not quite as intimidating when you step on that tee. Joy to be out there playing with Webb Simpson and Ian Poulter, and we had a blast. We cruised around, I played some wonderful golf, and very, very happy with what I shot.

“I didn’t spend too much time looking at — 8 or something is leading, something like that, but knowing that as I did yesterday there’s always a disaster here if you’re not paying attention, I just tried to keep a clean card, and the right side of the pin, which is what I did for most of the day.”

Casey is contesting his 18th PGA Championship since a debut in 2002 and with best finish a T10th in 2016 at Baltusrol in New Jersey.

And joining McDowell in crashing out of the event was another Irish Open winner in Sergio Garcia who found no fondness at all on the course in posting a pair of 73s.

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