STRETCHING out his long legs as he leaned back in his seat on the verandah at Fanling after his emphatic victory in January's Hongkong Closed amateur championship, Scott Rowe was asked about his golfing ambitions. He pondered the question for a few seconds. When the reply came it was delivered in a chillingly ruthless tone. ''When I want something, I go for it. And more than anything I want to be world number one,'' said Rowe, setting out his long-term masterplan in the same calculated manner he displays in overwhelming his rivals on the golf course. He continued: ''I'll graduate from college in 1997 and then try to get on to the US Tour. Then give me 10 years. The year will be 2007, I'll be 32 . . . and I'll be world number one.'' Coming from most teenagers a statement of such outrageous proportions would be dismissed out of hand. Yet, in the two months that have elapsed since Rowe made those assertions numerous things have happened which make his comments appear less outlandish. During a momentous week at Fanling last month in the Kent Hongkong Open, Rowe belied his tender years with a performance of such poise and maturity that he upstaged top drawcards Tom Watson and Severiano Ballesteros. When he looks back on the occasion in years to come he may well conclude that was the week when he crossed the threshold from outstanding amateur golfer to potential professional superstar. Although he shrugs off any comparisons with teenage American sensation Eldrick ''Tiger'' Woods, Rowe is one of the hottest young properties in the golfing world. Over the past 12 months several of America's foremost universities have been wooing the Hongkong International School pupil, who turned 18 on Wednesday. Ever eager to boost the strength of their respective college teams, the top ''schools'' leave no stone unturned as they scour the US and beyond in search of talented youngsters with the determination to make it to the top. In the eyes of those who have followed his rise to prominence, Rowe fits the bill. Among the universities keen to entice him are Oklahoma State, Weber State and world-renowned Stanford - Rowe's number one choice. And given his latest recommendation there appears little doubt that Rowe will win a four-year golfing scholarship at Stanford where, when he is not on the links, he will study psychology. That is the same path that was trodden by Watson himself some 25 years ago. Having completed his education at Stanford, Watson embarked on a stunningly successful career which has seen him win five British Open titles and eight major championships in all. When Golf Association of Hongkong officials decided to pair Rowe with defending champion Watson for the first two rounds of the Open many were sceptical about the wisdom of such a move. But Rowe quickly allayed any fears as he showed his relish for a challenge with a highly accomplished opening-round 68. Clearly, Watson was impressed. But even Rowe did not realise quite how impressed until the telephone rang at the Mid-Levels apartment of his parents last week. The caller was Wally Goodman, the golf coach at Stanford University who has frequently rung Hongkong over the past 12 months to check on Rowe's progress. But the nature of this call was different. Goodman began along the lines: ''I thought I'd contact you to let you know that I've had a call from Tom Watson. He said he was very impressed with you and said that you had great potential and that he highly recommends you come to Stanford.'' It was an unprompted gesture typical of Watson and one which Rowe will not forget. ''For Tom Watson to go to the trouble of calling the coach at Stanford shows the type of person that he is. A true gentleman and a perfect role model.'' Few people know Rowe and his game better than Joe Hardwick, senior professional at the Royal Hongkong Golf Club. Within minutes of Rowe turning up at Fanling five years ago for his first lesson, Hardwick recognised he was dealing with an exceptional talent. Then a 23-handicapper, Rowe displayed a feel and flair for the game the like of which Hardwick has rarely seen in his 40 years as a professional. ''After watching him hit a few balls it was obvious he had remarkable natural ability,'' said Hardwick, whose only doubts were with regard to Rowe's physique. ''He was tall and very thin and I told him the first thing to concentrate on was to get physically stronger.'' Rowe did just that and has now filled out to such an extent that he is almost unrecognisable from the pencil-thin 13-year-old adolescent who set foot in Hongkong in 1988. An unflappable temperament has also been a feature of Rowe's golf - an attribute that served him well during the Open. ''To have the chance that Scott had at the Hongkong Open to play with Watson and Ballesteros was a daunting prospect. The fact that he responded to the challenge the way he did says a great deal about his personality and ability,'' said Hardwick. So, how far can he really go? According to Watson, Ballesteros and Hardwick, all the way to the summit. Watson said: ''He's a fine player. There is a good pace to his swing and it will enable him to hit a lot of good golf shots. He's also a good putter . . . and that's what it takes.'' After partnering Rowe in the third round of the Open, Ballesteros commented: ''I'm sure he has a big future in the game. He reminds me of Davis Love III, physically and in his swing. I didn't know that he was only 17. It's unbelievable. I thought he was22.'' Hardwick, who considers Rowe to be the best amateur golfer Hongkong has ever had, said: ''It is unlimited what he can go on to achieve in the game.'' However, Hardwick admits to two nagging doubts. The first is with regard to Rowe's height and the second concerns the possibility of coaches attempting to alter his swing. ''Although he's stopped growing now his height may let him down, particularly when he's playing in windy conditions. ''As far as his swing goes, I really haven't done very much to change it. There has not been the need and I believe that anyone with the natural ability that Scott has should be left alone,'' said Hardwick. Despite his grand ambitions, Rowe can be modest almost to a fault. He said: ''As far as golf goes, outside Asia I'm just an average Joe. Going to America will give me a chance to see how good I am and to find out if my heart is really there.''