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Professional golfer Joel Sjoholm, who lives in Dubai, was not pleased with the fans who came out to watch him and his colleagues at the China Open last week. David Cannon / Getty Images
Professional golfer Joel Sjoholm, who lives in Dubai, was not pleased with the fans who came out to watch him and his colleagues at the China Open last week. David Cannon / Getty Images

Golf is flourishing in China but country is shooting below par on golf etiquette

The European Tour sanctions three golf tournaments in China, where it is not just the fans who must grasp the customs of sport, writes Steve Elling.

Not many grey areas in a 140-character tweet, but when Joel Sjoholm completed the China Open last week, it was clear he wasn't sorry to be leaving.

Sjoholm, who lives in Dubai, was more than a little annoyed that a fan had picked up his golf ball in the final round, an example of the problems with fan decorum at tournaments in China.

"This wasn't a lost ball," Sjoholm said. "It was stolen and in somebody's pocket."

A decade after golf found a foothold in China, the country has begun to produce a string of promising players, including a trio in their teen years or younger who have played on the PGA and European tours this spring. But Chinese galleries have routinely interrupted play, been disruptive at crucial times and often have no grasp of the rules involving mobile phones and cameras.

Last week, Sjoholm said a family was setting up a picnic lunch at the 16th tee box, before a referee chased them off.

The European Tour sanctions three tournaments in China, where it is not just the fans who must grasp the customs of sport. Adam Scott appeared at a press session in China seven years ago and was asked by a female reporter: "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?"

Experts say that China, already a force in other sports, soon will be part of golf's power structure. Golf etiquette may be slower in taking root.

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