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Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching

The graduate: Tiffany Chan on capping a whirlwind 12 months by making the leap from college into the money ranks

The 23-year-old will complete her studies at the University of Southern California before returning home for the June 9-11 event at Hong Kong Golf Club

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 4:28pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 April, 2017, 11:42am

The old adage ‘stay in school’ certainly rings true for Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching with the Olympian delaying her move into the professional ranks until after she graduates from the University of Southern California, but just in time for the defence of her Hong Kong Ladies Open title in June.

The 23-year-old amateur has enjoyed a whirlwind 12 months since last year’s play-off victory at Hong Kong Golf Club over Thailand’s Kanphanitnan Muangkhumsakul as she went on to represent Hong Kong at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

Tuen Muen-native Chan also did enough to earn a card on the second-tier Symetra Tour in the United States this year, but will only begin her bid to secure a place on the top-level LPGA Tour the week after her first event as a professional over the Old Course at Fanling.

“Last year I was still in school and I was debating whether I should turn pro even if I didn’t qualify for Symetra Tour status, but when I thought about it, I really wanted to graduate,” said Chan ahead of the 54-hole EFG Hong Kong Ladies Open, which is co-sanctioned by the China LPGA, the LPGA of Taiwan and the Ladies Asian Golf Tour.

“So I decided to stay as an amateur and turn pro after my last college event, which is the national championship in late May.

“I will be announcing I will be turning pro after that, and then Hong Kong will be my first professional tournament. After that I will be returning to the States to play on the Symetra Tour.”

Chan will be left with a maximum of 12 events to earn a top-10 finish on the Symetra Tour money list that will hand her a card on the LPGA Tour next season, which she says is her “ultimate goal”.

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The minimum target will be to finish inside the top 30 to earn an exemption into the second round of qualifying school, with a top 20 finish securing a place in the final round which is the same stage she reached this year having begun in the first round.

Tiffany Chan with Annie Park

A post shared by Annie Park (@annieparkusc) on Mar 1, 2016 at 12:55pm PST

Former University of Southern California teammate Annie Park made a similar mid-season switch to the professional ranks in 2015 and went on to record three wins and four top-10 finishes in 11 starts on the Symetra Tour to earn a place on the LPGA Tour.

“I have earned tour status on Symetra, but I am still in college. I could play in any event, but as an amateur I couldn't earn any money, so it is not going to help my Symetra Tour status and ranking, so that is why I am staying back and will turn pro and then jump into Symetra in June,” added Chan.

“I was going to play the Symetra event before the Hong Kong Open, but I want to come back early to prepare myself for the event, so I am going to skip the event before and instead start right after the Hong Kong Open.”

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Chan will arrive in Hong Kong around 10 days before the start of the Hong Kong Ladies Open, which takes place between June 9-11, having represented the University of Southern California in the NCAA Championship finals in May in Illinois.

“I am very excited to be defending my title and the Hong Kong Ladies Open is going to be my first professional event after turning pro, so I might have a bit more pressure than I did last year as I was playing as an amateur,” said Chan, who will become Hong Kong’s first female professional golfer since Joann Hardwick, who enjoyed success in her 20s competing on the Asian women’s circuit.

“I have had experience of playing in several professional events this year, so I am not that worried. I just hope that I can defend my title and hopefully everyone can enjoy my game as a professional.

“This year I will have more pressure playing as a professional, especially as it is my first event, but what I can do right now is prepare the best I can so I don’t regret doing anything.”

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Last year, Chan holed a 12-foot birdie putt on the final green to force a play-off with Kanphanitnan before making a solid par on the first play-off hole after her opponent drove out of bounds to claim her second victory in a professional event.

“My performance last year was beyond a lot of people’s expectations, but I worked really hard over the summer, even from the beginning of the year, as I knew I would have a chance to play at the Rio Olympics. I spent a lot of time and sacrificed a lot as all I did was go to school and play golf,” she added.

“I am not surprised I won the Hong Kong Ladies Open, but I had to be lucky enough to do that.

“But this year I will graduate and can spend all my free time on golf. I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, but I will just try my best and see how it goes this year.”

Chan is set to make her debut on the Symetra Tour at the Decatur-Forsyth Classic in Illinois the week after competing in Hong Kong.