The fisherman's son who became a golf pro: meet the coach of Hong Kong's Special Olympics golf team

Golf instructor and his pupils are living proof that the sport is not only for the privileged few

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 March, 2014, 5:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 1:54am

It is often said that golf is a game for the privileged elite, but instructor Cheung Kwai-hong is driving home a very different message.

Born to a family of fishermen, Cheung left his village at age 14 to work in a garment factory. Yet today he is living proof that those from humble origins can succeed in the sport.

Not only has Cheung enjoyed almost two decades in professional golf, he is now helping a new generation prove that they, too, can overcome adversity to succeed on the greens.

Under his wing are the 20 golfers of the city's Special Olympics team. The squad, funded by the Jockey Club, will compete next month in the Special Olympics Macau Golf International Masters tour. Like their coach, the team hopes to spread their love of golf and prove it is a sport for all.

Cheung himself started late. Now 48, he was not introduced to golf until 1996, when he landed a job as a caddy at the Kau Sai Chau Public Golf Course in Sai Kung, the city's only public course.

"I was unemployed and looking for a job. I knew absolutely nothing about the sport," he recalled. "When I first stepped onto the green, my only reaction was that the grass looked nice."

Months of after-hours practice soon paid off, and he became a coaching assistant. In 2000, he became a professional instructor.

In 2007, he took the reins of the city's Special Olympics golf team, taking them to competitions overseas and helping form what is now a close-knit family.

Like their coach, the team members, many of whom have autism or Down's syndrome, also come from humble origins.

At just a few months old, Man Chi-leung was left in the care of his grandmother. His parents soon divorced and began separate lives. But this did not keep Man from going on to become one of the team's top golfers.

Once a week, the shy 24-year-old, who has autism, makes the journey from his home at a Ma On Shan public housing estate to the manicured greens of Kau Sai Chau for practice.

"He's the most hardworking one. He shows up to 99 per cent of all training sessions. He even comes an hour early," Cheung, who is "like a second father" to Man, said.

"He loves golf," Grandma Man, 71, said. "Since taking it up, he's become more approachable and willing to talk to people."

Golf has also helped Yau Chi-him, 23, overcome a severe confidence problem. "I love golf so much. I can hit the ball very far," Yau said. He has helped the team win medals at Special Olympics events in Shanghai, Taiwan, South Korea and Macau.

Cheung hopes more special-needs children will take up golf.

"They won't all become the next Tiger Woods, but for them, it's really all about enjoying the moment and being happy. In a way, that's what the game of golf should be about for everybody."