Why Olympic star Tiffany Chan is the perfect ambassador Hong Kong golf has been dreaming of
Amateur’s qualification for Rio is the fillip the game needs as it tries to fight accusations of being only for the city’s wealthy elite
Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching is a communications major at the University of Southern California. Courses include: public speaking, communication and mass media, and navigating media and news in the digital age. It’s unclear how much practical work is involved, but surely she could point her professors to her appearance in front of the press this week.
As many as 30-40 reporters and camera people from Cantonese media were in attendance, an unprecedented level of interest in golf in a city where the sport is still seen as the preserve of wealthy elites.
The new-found enthusiasm is, of course, because of the 22-year-old’s remarkable qualification for the Rio Olympics as golf returns to the Games for the first time since 1904.
One of only three amateurs to qualify among the 120 men and women who will take part, her tremendous run included two victories in professional events, the Future Open in Taiwan and the Hong Kong Ladies Open.
WATCH: Tiffany Chan on her journey to Rio
She is the perfect good news story for the Hong Kong Golf Association, which for some years has been keen to play down the perception of golf as little more than a pastime for tycoons – especially with some in government casting avaricious glances at the 1.7 million square metres of prime land the Hong Kong Golf Club pays a nominal rent for in Fanling, the city’s largest private recreational lease by orders of magnitude.
Chan spoke confidently and articulately, in English and Cantonese, about her journey from the public LSCD driving range in Tuen Mun to the Barra course in Rio, and took carefully rehearsed questions from kids in the HKGA junior programme as they rightly try to present her as a role model for the next generation of talent.
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“People keep asking similar questions,” she told me when I trotted out the well-worn issue of the sport’s elitism or otherwise.
“I tell them every sport when you want to develop as a kid you have to spend some money, even table tennis or badminton you still have to spend some money.
“If you go to where I grew up at Tuen Mun driving range, when I grew up for kids it was only HK$6 an hour to hit as many balls as you want.
"It’s a misunderstanding looking into golf when you see the [TV] dramas it’s all rich guys – I try to tell people it’s a good sport for kids, you can alway try on the driving range.
“I didn’t start off being a member of a golf club, when you get to a high level, the HKGA will provide junior camps and classes for you to develop to another level. The HKGA’s playing a big part in promoting so it’s a good thing for all the kids to get into golf.”
As well as the ‘rich man’s game’ trope, Chan is giving the lie to another local stereotype, that Hong Kong parents would much rather their children hit the books and become lawyers or doctors rather than focus on their sporting talents.
While it would be wrong to say there’s been a drastic change in that prevailing attitude, Chan has certainly benefited from her proud parents letting her follow her dream.
“I’m pretty lucky that I’ve got parents who never forced me to do anything I don’t want to,” she said. “As a kid I wasn’t a big fan of going to school, but you still have to go.
"They tried not to force me into studying to be a doctor or any professional career and it ended up I chose golf as a hobby and ended telling them when in college that I might want to play golf as a career.
“They’ve been big supporters of my journey, they never say a word that I shouldn’t be an athlete, and I’m really thankful and grateful that I have parents like them.”
No wonder Mark Chan, the Hong Kong Golf Association president, was enthusing at the press conference over his namesake being the “greatest thing ever to happen to Hong Kong golf”.
Just reaching Rio is a massive achievement, and if she makes the cut or even contends, the current positive headlines for local golf will reach a whole new level.
“It’s only once every four years and I will try my best not to let anyone down or let myself down,” she added. There seems little chance of that happening.