Hong Kong – Sporting prodigies don’t always make good on their early promise, but England’s Aaron Rai has turned his talent into a record-breaking score at the Hong Kong Open.
The world number 201 from Wolverhampton first tasted golf celebrity aged five, when he won his first tournament and was featured on BBC TV, swiping drives and holing putts.
Later, he was touted as a teen sensation at age 15, when he sunk 207 consecutive 10-foot putts to beat the ‘Lee Westwood World Puttmaster Record’.
On Friday, the 23-year-old carded a blistering nine-under-par 61 at the par-70 Fanling course, topping a leaderboard containing Ryder Cup stars Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia and Patrick Reed, the Masters champion.
The road to Rai’s membership on the European Tour began last year, with a Challenge Tour victory at the Barclays Kenya Open on Mothering Sunday – in front of his Kenya-born mother, who had returned to the country for the first time in 47 years to see her son play.
His two bogey-free two rounds at Fanling have stunned fans and fellow competitors, and have given Rai a four-shot lead going into the weekend.
But he said he will not be changing the attacking approach that has put him on 12 under par after two rounds.
“If you get too conservative, if you try and defend the lead a bit too much, you can start going backwards very easily,” he said.
Growing up playing golf in the Britain, Rai – who is of Indian descent – said he has generally been spared prejudice in the sport.
“I mean, you get the odd one here and there but again, it’s minimal compared to what it could have been,” he said
“It would have been a lot harder if I would have grown up in the 80s.”
Remembering that to be “doing a hobby for a living is pretty rare and pretty special” keeps him straight, along with regularly meditating.
He still indulges in one strange habit, which began at age eight, when he was sent two golf gloves instead of the usual one.
He took to wearing both on the same hand, and knew he was hooked a few weeks later when his father forgot to pack both gloves ahead of a game.
“I had to play with one and it was terrible. I couldn’t play… couldn’t feel the grip,” he said, explaining that he has worn two gloves ever since.
Leading scores after the second round of the Honma Hong Kong Open at Fanling on Friday (par 70):
126 – Aaron Rai (ENG) 65-61
130 – Park Hyo-won (KOR) 68-62
132 – Matt Fitzpatrick (ENG) 70-62
133 – Micah Lauren Shin (USA) 66-67
134 – Alvaro Quiros (ESP) 68-66, Tommy Fleetwood (ENG) 69-65, Adilson da Silva (BRA) 70-64, Jason Scrivener (AUS) 65-69, Scott Hend (AUS) 68-66, Jake Higginbottom (AUS) 69-65
135 – David Lipsky (USA) 69-66, Jeunghun Wang (KOR) 68-67, Ashley Chesters (ENG) 68-67
136 – Liu Yanwei (CHI) 68-68, Jack Singh Brar (ENG) 66-70, Victor Perez (FRA) 71-65, Danthai Boonma (THA) 67-69, Kim Koivu (FIN) 69-67, Thongchai Jaidee (THA) 68-68, Nicolas Colsaerts (BEL) 68-68, Marcus Kinhult (SWE) 72-64