IMG signs up Li Haotong as leading Chinese player looks for more success worldwide

Chinese golfer Haotong Li (left) has signed for IMG
Li Haotong (left) with Phil Mickelson at the 2019 World Golf Championship HSBC Champions at Sheshan International Golf Club. Picture by GETTY IMAGES

CHINA’S leading golfer Li Haotong has signed a worldwide management representaion deal with IMG covering all commercial activity.

Haotong has enjoyed a record-breaking career since turning professional in 2011 at the age of sixteen.

The 24-year-old won the inaugural PGA Tour Series-China Order of Merit in 2014 after three wins in the season.

And – having captured his second European Tour title at the 2018 Omega Dubai Desert Classic – he became the first Chinese player to break into the top 50 on the Official World Golf Rankings.

Haotong represented China in the 2016 Olympics, and in December he became the first player from mainland China to feature in the 2019 Presidents Cup International team, under captain Ernie Els.

Haotong, who has been a stablemate of Justin Rose and Tiger Woods at Excel Sports Management, said: “I am very happy to announce I am joining the team at IMG.

“Both in China and, as I’ve played around the world, I have been impressed by everything IMG does in golf.

“From the CGA-HSBC Junior Program I played in as a kid – to the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, to the tournaments I’m playing in the Middle East this month – their strength in China, as well as their truly global reach, is what makes them stand out in the industry.

“I am also excited to see how I can benefit from their incredible network across sports, entertainment and content, and utilise their unique expertise to take advantage of new opportunities reaching out beyond golf too.”    

IMG head of golf clients Jay Danzi said: “Li Haotong, along with the likes of Feng Shanshan and Liang Wenchong, is helping to inspire a whole new generation of young Chinese golfers with his achievements.

“We are proud to announce him as an IMG client and look forward to working with him to help him continue to break records on course while growing his brand off course – using our extensive reach across entertainment and sports to deliver for him, both in China and internationally.”

Li played 19 European Tour events in his first five seasons as a pro playing in events co-sanctioned with the Asian Tour.

Having qualified as the first Chinese pro to play on the Tour in 2015 – after his Order of Merit win on the PGA Tour China – Li earned his European Tour card by winning the 2016 Volvo China Open.

Li finished 23rd on the Race to Dubai that season and recorded his best result so far in a Major with a third place behind Jordan Spieth in the 2017 Open Championship at Royal Birkdale.

His final round 63 broke the record for the best round in a Major by a Chinese player and earned him an invite to the 2018 Masters at Augusta.

He lost a play-off with Justin Rose at the 2018 Turkish Airlines Open having claimed the biggest victory of his career in Dubai, at the start of that year.

Li will tee it up in the 15th Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship next week in his first European Tour start of the 2020 season – and the first Rolex Series event of the new year.

IMG has managed giants of the game of golf

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods amassed the biggest fortune in golf during his 15 years as a client of IMG. Picture by David Mark from Pixabay

IMG – founded by lawyer Mark McCormack in the 1960s – revolutionised sports management in golf and tennis in particular.

It represented Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, the game’s biggest stars worldwide commercially but their incomes were eventually dwarfed by the game’s biggest star managed by IMG.

Tiger Woods signed for IMG when he turned pro in 1996 and handled his huge sponsorship deals with Nike until the former World No. 1 and his personal manager Mark Steinberg both left the company, and joined Excel Sports Management.

Woods was reported to receive $20million a year from Nike alone, and at his peak earned more than $100million a year from off-course endorsements.

Tiger was a worth a reported $500million when he left IMG nine years ago when he had won 14 Majors, and signed a $200million deal with Nike in 2013.

After his victory at last year’s Masters – following his Tour Championship win in 2018 that scooped $4.6million, his biggest prize money in five years – his career earnings have exceeded $1.4billion.

The biggest prize money winner in the game’s history has amassed more than $122million during his 82 PGA Tour victories.

His win at Japan’s Zozo Championship in October equalled Sam Snead’s record. Phil Mickelson’s 44 wins is the highest by a current player after Tiger.

His latest victory put Woods’ overall fortune at some three times of Jack Nicklaus – whose Major record Tiger would still love to break.

Nicklaus’ great rival Palmer made more money off the course and having been the first player to earn $1million in prize money, was worth an estimated $875million at the time of his death in 2016.

That was slightly more than Tiger – after Woods’ messy divorce after the break up of his marriage in 2009 when he was attacked by his his wife Elin Nordgren after she confronted him about accusations about his cheating with a number of women.

Whatever the extact figures, they are riches Haotong Li can still only dream about. But signing for IMG should obviously help China’s leading player follow in Tiger’s footsteps.

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