Names like Zhou Xunshu, the peasant turned security guard turned pro golfer whose inspiring story plays a central role in my forthcoming book.
Zhou and his colourful peers belonged to China’s decidedly blue-collar first generation of pro golfers.
They were former farmers, sushi chefs, stunt motorcyclists, kung fu experts and People’s Liberation Army soldiers, who somehow stumbled into a sport that for most of their lives they never knew existed.
Golf became the means by which they could realise a modest slice of the Chinese Dream. They came from a far different rung on the social ladder than the elites who had thus far monopolised the country’s courses.
Through a gap in the wall I spotted men wearing eyeglasses and white short-sleeve, button-up dress shirts tucked into black pleated trousers – the unofficial uniform for Chinese bureaucrats.
Zhao remains the only member of China’s ruling politburo ever to be photographed enjoying a round of golf.
Such a photo, even today, would be considered political suicide.
I never realised so many of my conversations would have to be off the record, so much research would have to be conducted surreptitiously, or that I’d end up hiding from government officials in a shack in Hainan, China’s tropical island province.
Back in 2005, when I was filing stories for the sports website ESPN.com, things seemed more straightforward.
Golf was so unpopular in China that those who ground away at the game for a living had yet to assume the affectations usually associated with professional athletes. They’d smoke cigarettes and down tall bottles of cold beer.