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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Omega Dubai Desert Classic trophy winner Li Haotong 'quite happy to lift that heavy thing'

Rory McIlroy’s golfing life is pored over in such minute detail that we generally have more than passable idea of his fitness at any given time.

We know, for instance, that he returned to playing at the start of this year precisely 2kgs heavier than when injury forced him to take three months off. It is “two good kilos” he informed us in Abu Dhabi last week.

The sort of muscle mass, presumably, that would have made lifting the 15kg, solid-silver Dallah Trophy that is handed out to the winner of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic a cinch.

Of Li Hoatong’s training regimen, not so much is known. After all, there has not been so much call for that sort of insight so far. For what it’s worth, he does not like wearing shorts, on account of his legs being too skinny.

When he shocked the field – and McIlroy in particular – by shooting a record low-score of 23-under-par at the 2018 Classic, to win the tournament by one, he had to plan his attack on hoisting the coffee pot trophy, which is 42.5ins long and 30ins wide.

“I don't have many trophies in my home,” said Li, who was celebrating winning a second European Tour title, in his 61st tournament. “I was quite happy to lift that heavy thing.”

The 22 year old from Hunan might have been the first Asian winner of the Classic, but he is not the first from China to find himself at home on the fairways of Emirates Golf Club. Shanshan Feng has won the women’s tournament around the Majlis Course for four of the past six years.

The ramifications of Li’s win, though, are likely to far outstrip Feng’s efforts to date. In winning in Dubai, he became the first Chinese male golfer to break into the top 50 of the world golf rankings.

The €403,388 (Dh2 million) prize for winning the Classic took him to second in the Race to Dubai standings, where he is sandwiched either side by the celebrated figures of Tommy Fleetwood, in first, and McIlroy.

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It was his first win since the 2016 Volvo China Open – and thus the first time he had won outside his homeland – and it moved him level with Ashun Wu as the most prolific Chinese winner on tour.

Ever so gradually, he is going global, and Chinese golf is going with him.

“Last night, my phone was like, how to say, like boom, exploding,” Li said in his valedictory press conference. “Seriously, there were so many messages, people saying: ‘Oh, Haotong!’

“I haven't got my phone now. I don't know where it is. Whatever. Then they said, if you win this week, you're going to break a lot of new records. Well, lucky I did.

“It's definitely going to give me a lot of confidence for next few events, and the rest of the year. Especially for the Masters. I have never been there before, and I am looking forward to those big events.”