Yates goes to China in pursuit of PGA tour

Atlantan Wesley Yates will stand on the first tee at St. Andrews this week, inhale deeply and take the next step in pursuit of his dream to play the PGA Tour.

However, the won’t be competing at St. Andrews in Scotland, the hallowed ground that is the home of golf. Yates will be at St. Andrews in Zhengzhou, China, a namesake course that’s separated by 5,000 miles and hundreds of years of tradition, in the first event on the PGA Tour China Series.

Historical significance doesn’t matter right now to Yates, who began his golfing journey at the First Tee of Atlanta at age 8. He is no ready to continue his quest to reach the top level of competition and has embraced the idea of going as far from home as possible to make it happen.

“It’s kind of crazy to think about being on that side of the world,” Yates said. “It’s going to be a huge cultural shock.”

For the next few months — the tour’s schedule is set only through the end of June — Yates will be receive the sort of immersion course that you can’t get from a few lunch visits to Panda Express.

Yates, 26, is one of two dozen Americans in the field for this week’s PGA Tour China kickoff. It’s his second trip to China, the first coming in January when he finished 33rd at the Global Qualifying Tournament in Kumming in the Yunnan Province in the southwestern portion of the country. That finish was good enough to earn him an exemption for PGA Tour China this season.

“That was one of the toughest tournaments I’ve ever played in,” Yates said. “The winds were 25-30 mph, but I couldn’t worry about it. I just had to make it.”

It starts for real this week with the Henan Open at St. Andrews, the one in the central portion of the country. From there the tour moves on to visit Wuhan, Chengdu Chongming Island and Nanjing, with the remainder of the schedule to be announced.

Yates doesn’t speak Chinese, but has arranged to make the transition smoother by connecting with the First Tee chapters in China. Some have agreed to house, feed and caddie for him. Those are just a few items he won’t need to worry about and will allow him to save a few yuan. He’s been courting sponsors and hosted fundraisers to pay for the expensive endeavor.

Now the long-hitting Yates can focus on playing well enough to finish among the top five on the PGA Tour China Series’ Order of Merit, which would provide exempt status on the Web.com Tour for 2017. The next 20 spots are exempt to the final stage of qualifying school. All dangle as a carrot the potential to reach the PGA Tour.

It’s another step in the circuitous route that Yates has taken to get here. After graduating from Our Lady of Mercy in Fairburn, he played his college golf at Florida A&M and worked for a couple of years before turning pro in 2013.

He’s mostly played the mini-tour circuit throughout the Southeast, failed to qualify for the PGA Tour Latin America and last year teamed with his friend and former FAMU colleague Shep Archie to compete in the “Altered Course” reality show on Golf Channel. Now it’s on to China.

“I’ve never been a prodigy or a guy who was always the best,” Yates said. “I’ve been someone who has had to work his way up. I seem to find a way to elevate my game to the occasion. If I need to go to China to get to the PGA Tour, that’s what I’ll do.”

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