Junior golf in Hong Kong got another boost with the launch of a “drive, chip and putt” championship to give youngsters the chance to test themselves against their peers.
The late-May event was organised by the Hong Kong Golf & Tennis Academy (HKGTA) at its impressive layout in Sai Kung, and there was a sense of excitement – combined with pre-competition nerves – as the youngsters warmed up with a few practice swings and got the feel of the greens.
The two-day contest was open to all Hong Kong residents aged six to 15. Players were divided into age groups, inspired by the knowledge that the winners in each division would receive a year’s training from professional coaches at the HKGTA’s Jack Nicklaus Academy of Golf – valued at over HK$100,000 – and become members of the academy team.
For all other competitors there were souvenir packages and certificates. This was in line with the purpose of promoting participation in sports, foster local talent, and encourage young golfers to reach their potential.
One of the stand-out performers on the day was 14-year-old Lau Hoi-ki, a pupil at ISF Academy in Cyberport, who was champion in the category for girls aged nine to 15, and took the prize for longest drive in her group.
She is no rookie, having first taken up a club when not yet five. She mastered the basics on the driving range at Olympic City and enjoys playing with her friends whenever possible.
“I like learning new shots such as pitching the ball for a soft landing and making it stop quickly – that takes a lot of practice,” says Lau, who tries to play three to four times a week after school and at weekends. “Before a session, I see what I need to improve and ask the coach for advice.” She can consistently hit 210 yards off the tee. The secret, she finds, is to clear the mind, breathe slowly, aim straight at the target, and get good club-head speed.
“If I can keep improving, I hope to play at international level one day as an amateur,” Lau says. “The key to that is to practise even more and work on things like striking the
ball on slopes or when it’s below your feet.”
Another young star was 10-year-old Aleksi Pahlman, who won top prize for the longest drive and was first runner-up in the overall competition for boys aged nine to 15.
He attends the ESF’s Glenealy School and has been playing since the age of four. He was inspired by seeing a famous golfer on TV and thought the sport looked fun and cool.
During the competition, he struggled with putting because he has a tendency to hit the ball too hard. When chipping, though, he has worked conscientiously on letting the ball pitch and roll. And driving is no problem, with his best efforts often going around 200 yards.
“Before the tournament, I just did my usual stuff, practising by hitting balls and trying some putts,” says Pahlman, who often plays twice a week at the HKGTA. “I was confident, tried to stay calm, and made sure not to do anything too sudden.”
Even at this early stage, he has thoughts of perhaps turning professional in future, seeing that as a fine way to make a living.
“What I like most about golf is being out on the course and having the chance to improve,” he says. “Overall, I think it’s just great fun.”