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Clearwater Bay Open 2016

by SCMP

Clearwater Bay Open 2016

Hong Kong golfer Jason Hak hopes he’s consigned dark days to history after wondering whether he should quit

Former prodigy struggled on his first years as a pro, but has re-emerged into the light in past two months

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 September, 2016, 3:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 September, 2016, 11:59am

Jason Hak Shun-yat has consigned the dark days to history.

“I’ve learned that I have to walk down my own path,” says the 22-year-old. “And I have started getting better and better since I realised that.”

The past few months have seen Hak re-emerge into the light, thanks to string of solid performances on the PGA Tour China Series.

There’s not been the breakthrough victory he has longed for but the 22-year-old is full of confidence once again after leading for the first three rounds of the Ping An Bank Open in Beijing last week – before finishing fourth to American Charlie Saxon – and finishing runner-up at the Chongqing Jiangnan NewTown KingRun Open earlier in the month.

Long gone, he says, are the haunting experiences of last year, when Hak found himself grinding away on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, missing cuts with worrying regularity and feeling as far from home as a young man can get.

WATCH: A bird’s-eye view of the Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club

There were times, struggling and out there alone, when Hak wondered whether it was worth all the effort.

“It was very tough,” says Hak. “Obviously when you go through those times you can start questioning yourself.

“You question a lot of things. But at the end of the day, I love the game so much and I know I can play. If the results are not coming, then obviously you are not doing something right so you just have to fix that. You have to just wake up the next day and work your ass off.”

Revitalised Hong Kong golfer Jason Hak to compete in front of home fans at Clearwater Bay Open

It was a far cry from the heady days of 2008, when Hak had the golfing world in a spin. Aged just 14 years and 304 days, he became the youngest-ever player to make the cut at a European Tour event when he played on into the weekend at the UBS Hong Kong Open.

It should be noted that the young man who broke that European Tour record of Hak’s was China’s one-time phenom Guan Tianlang, who at 14 years and five months made the cut at the 2013 Masters.

Guan is now 17 and swinging away in amateur boys’ competitions on the fringes of the game as he attempts to make good on his promise and seeks a way to adapt his game for the rigours of professional golf.

Hak says the pace of the modern game – and its demands – have made him grow up fast and he’s been working overtime with coach Mike Bender on how he approaches things on and off the course.

“There’s been parts of my life I have been working on, and there are parts of golf,” says Hak. “I think everything is related for me. How I feel off the course affects how I am on the course and it works the other way around too.

The wait goes on: Jason Hak again falls short of breakthrough win after finishing fourth at PGA Tour China Series event in Beijing

“There are a lot of details about myself I have been working out. It’s hard to explain. I have working on being more myself, being more relaxed.

“People always say when I’m playing for fun I am shooting six or seven under par easily. When it comes to a tournament it doesn’t happen. So I am trying to relax and remember when I am playing a tournament that I love the game.”

The Florida-based Hak turned pro after a year at Georgia Tech and at one stage was the American Junior Golf Association’s top-ranked player. He quickly won an NGA Pro Tour event in Florida in February 2014. But then, he reveals, the doubts started to creep in.

“I like to look at the positives from those times,” he says. “Those results gave me a lot of confidence and showed me I can do it.

“I know I can do it and that I can play consistently on tour. I’ve just had to learn that I have to do it on my own way. All I can do is try to keep improving myself.”

Show me the money: Hong Kong’s Jason Hak claims biggest cheque of professional career at PGA China Tour Series event

After the disappointments of 2015, Hak decided to ply his trade closer to home. He’s not a full-time member of the PGA Tour China, instead relying on qualifying and sponsors’ exemptions to make the fields, and he’d played six straight events by the end of play in Beijing last week.

Ahead will come the 1.2 million yuan Clearwater Bay Open from October 31 to November 6 – the first PGA Tour China Series event to be staged in Hong Kong, at the Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club where Hak still retains a locker, and where he represented the city at the 2011 Putra Cup.

“I can’t wait to bring my best game back home,” says Hak. “I was disappointed with the final day in Beijing but the focus is on the positives.

“I keep getting up and getting out there looking for answers and I am learning something every day.”