Less than a year after he nearly retired from golf, Li Haotong achieved his third career European tour win and first since 2018 at the BMW International Open on Sunday.
Li sank to the ground with loud exclamations of joy and relief after beating Thomas Pieters with a 40-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole. It was a huge turnaround from 2021, when he only made the cut at two European tour events all year and considered leaving the sport behind.
“Ten months ago … I just literally decided to quit golf. Somehow, where I am now, it’s hard to describe,” Li said. “I had no idea I could win this playoff. Luckily, things happened for me again.”
Li had led the tournament since a course record-equaling round of 10-under 62 on the opening day. However, his 2-under 70 Sunday was his worst of the tournament and Li looked like he might have blown his chance when a bogey on the 15th left him in a three-way tie with Pieters and Ryan Fox.
A symbol of Li’s struggles was the par-five No. 6, where he had bogey after eagles in his previous three rounds
Li recovered with birdies on the 16th and 17th but missed a birdie putt which could have won the tournament on the final hole.
Li then won a playoff for the first time in his career with a birdie as Pieters failed to sink a 10-foot putt.
The tournament took place amid simmering tension over players signing with the breakaway Saudi-backed LIV series.
Unlike the PGA Tour, the European tour stopped short of issuing indefinite suspensions from all its competitions even if players took part in the lucrative inaugural LIV tournament in England this month, but it did issue fines on Friday and suspended them from three tournaments co-sanctioned with the PGA, including the Scottish Open.
Ten golfers who played the first LIV event were in the field in Munich, with Pablo Larrazabal the best performer, finishing five strokes off the lead, and Louis Oosthuizen one stroke further back.
Two-time major winner Martin Kaymer played this week and said the European tour’s warning of future punishment for golfers who continue with LIV won’t stop him playing more Saudi-run tournaments.
“I’ll play all of the LIV tournaments until the end of the year and let’s see how the sanctions look again after that,” Kaymer said in comments reported by Germany’s dpa agency.
“You don’t like to get some kind of sanctions each week because you’ve played a tournament somewhere else.”