China’s Dou determined to shine in ‘home’ game at AT&T Byron Nelson

Marty Zecheng DouDallas: China’s Marty Zecheng Dou is banking on a ‘home’ game at this week’s AT&T Byron Nelson to turn his fortunes around after enduring a challenging spell on the PGA TOUR.

The 26-year-old is hopeful he can enjoy a strong week at TPC Craig Ranch, his adopted home course in Dallas, in the US$9.5 million tournament starting on Thursday which sees Korea’s K.H. Lee attempting a three-peat following wins in 2021 and 2022.

A second season on the PGA TOUR was meant to be Dou’s opportunity to establish himself in the world’s leading circuit after his debut season in 2018 but his form has been patchy.

“TPC Craig Ranch is my home course and I usually practice here. It is only five to six minutes from home. This course plays relatively easy and I am quite familiar with it,” said Dou.

He is counting on a recent switch to the AimPoint method in reading greens in his hopes to start shooting lower and consistent scores as the PGA TOUR heads towards the business end of the season, with the FedExCup Playoffs starting in August. Only the top-70 players will qualify for the Playoffs.

“My putting has got a lot better as I am now using AimPoint. I know some guys are fine to use their eyes to read the greens, and may not need to use their feet (which is part AimPoint’s technique). But it works for me. My putting seems to be more accurate,” said Dou.

After graduating from the Korn Ferry Tour last year where Dou lifted his third KFT win, he began the 2022-23 PGA TOUR season on a strong footing with two top-25s in the fall. He then came down with Covid-19 upon his return to Beijing for the winter break which subsequently affected his energy levels at the start of the New Year.

Some soreness in his right wrist has also caused concerns and he tweaked his golf swing in an attempt to avoid further aggravation, but it has only thrown his game off rhythm. In 17 starts this season, Dou has missed eight cuts and currently lies in 169th position on FedExCup points list. The top-125 after the Fall events will secure exemptions into full-field events in 2024.

“I encountered some challenges with my golf swing, and I was struggling. When I was in China, I got Covid and I didn’t quite recover my strength at the start of this year. And after more events, I still wasn’t in good form, my swing was not smooth and I was not comfortable,” said Dou, who finished tied 49th in the Mexico Open in Vidanta two weeks ago.

“I also felt a little soreness in the right wrist which I adjusted my swing. Although it feels better, I am not quite comfortable. I’m thinking if I should make further adjustments to find the right form. When I practice at the range, I don’t have many good shots and it affects my confidence.”

With the TOUR’s newly created Designated tournaments, Dou is determined to give it his all in an attempt to move up the FedExCup rankings. The top-50 are exempt for the Designated events in 2024.

“I know top-50 qualify for Designated events … it’s very competitive. I want to win such an event to prove myself, and the goal is to get into the top-50,” he said. “I will need to focus on every event I get into, and focus on every shot.”

Early in his career, Dou enjoyed successful stints on PGA TOUR Series China and Korn Ferry Tour and much was expected of him to fly China’s flag on the PGA TOUR. He acknowledged the journey has been windy, which is another testament as to how difficult it is to shine on golf’s biggest stage.

“When I played on the PGA TOUR the first time (in 2018), I was young and I came to learn. It didn’t matter if I lost my membership and had to go back to the Korn Ferry Tour. This season, I have felt more pressure as I have been a professional golfer for over eight years. Technically I feel I have improved and have more confidence. However, I also have anxieties when I don’t play well. My wife gives me a lot of support, and I can remain optimistic. The golf career is long, and I do not look at just one season. You need to stick to your own plan, everyone's time to shine is different,” said Dou, who is one of two mainland Chinese golfer on the PGA TOUR this season.