No fooling around for Hong Kong's Lam on US mission
Gifted teen golfer is embarking on a international journey that could be the start of a great pro career
Lucas Lam smiles when asked about his birthday. He turned 17 on April 1 - "Yes, I know, April Fools' Day," he laughs - and the irony is not lost on him because, in reality, he is one smart and grounded young man.
And it is this maturity, coupled with his talent, that may - just may - allow the Hong Kong youngster to be a success in the cut-throat world of professional golf.
The next three months will give Lam and his coach, Mission Hills Golf Club Group executive director Iain Roberts - some idea of his current standing and what he needs to work on next.
Today, Lam flies out to the United States to play in a series of age-group tournaments in California that will include the Junior World Golf Championships at Torrey Pines in San Diego. Then, in August, he will represent Hong Kong at the Youth Olympics in Nanjing.
He is relishing the challenge. "I've played in the US previously, but not much. The HKGA [Hong Kong Golf Association] didn't send me before because my game was not at a good enough level, but now they're sending me for the entire US summer tour. As well as the world juniors, I'll be playing Future Champions tournaments and attending some summer camps. It promises to be a great experience.
"I only found out this week I'd been chosen for the Youth Olympics and I'm thrilled. Each country is only allowed to send one boy and one girl so I'm honoured to be chosen to represent Hong Kong. I know it will be tough as each nation will send its best player and there will be some top golfing countries taking part. So I'm going there determined to enjoy the tournament and benefit from the experience."
Lam will approach the California events and Youth Olympics the same level-headed way he does any tournament.
"I don't think about scores too much," he reveals. "I don't go out thinking, 'I'm aiming to shoot three under'. I just aim to execute what I've been practising. I focus more on trying to hit a certain number of fairways, a certain number of greens, getting around under so many putts, that kind of thing. You have to expect the unexpected. I find it helps me not to focus on a certain score, but to concentrate on my game."
Lam was introduced to golf by his father, Ivan, a keen player.
"I started at four or five when my dad began taking me to the driving range. He told me that even from the first day I was able to make good contact with the ball, so I think he saw some talent there. I enjoyed playing but as I grew older he had to push me a bit, because golf is a game of patience and you need to work at it. Kids don't really understand that and I would react badly to a poor shot or a missed putt. At around 13, I started enjoying it more and then at 15 began winning a few more tournaments, so the confidence came."
Golf is a family affair for the Lams - mother Petty and 15-year-old sister Shanice also play and in times past they would often go out on the course as a foursome. Quite soon, it became clear young Lucas was some player. Recognising this, five years ago his parents hooked him up with Roberts, the club pro at Hong Kong Golf Club for nearly 15 years before he moved to Mission Hills. Since then, Lam has been a regular visitor to Shenzhen for tournaments and lessons.
The partnership is paying dividends. Lam won the Hong Kong Junior Open Championship at Fanling last August by 10 shots and followed up with a four-stroke victory in the Hong Kong Junior Close Championship at the same venue in April.
After almost four decades as a golf professional, Roberts is too experienced to make rash predictions about his protégé but stresses the youngster has done everything right so far.
"Lucas has shown he is patient enough to develop gradually and build his golf around his family life and education," says Roberts. "I've seen so many youngsters set their heart on being a professional and neglect their education, which means they can end up struggling in their early 20s. Golf is a mental game, so education and life skills not only make you a better balanced person, they make you a more complete player. Lucas understands this."
Lam does admit to thinking about turning professional and, who knows, one day competing against his two heroes, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson, but he insists education comes first. He has one more year at the International Christian School in Sha Tin and will then aim to play college golf in the US.
"I'm already talking to a few coaches about playing in the US but I'm not thinking too far ahead," he says. "I just want to keep working hard and if it's going well I can consider turning pro. But I don't have to make a decision now, I have a few years of college golf ahead of me."
From the boy born on April Fools' Day, wise words indeed.