Forget Tiger Woods, David Duval and Sergio 'El Nino' Garcia. Up-and-coming Asian golfers in search of a role model should look no further than Carlos Franco. A household name he may not be. Yet. However, with his victory in last week's Compaq Classic on the US PGA Tour, the 33-year-old Paraguayan forced his way into the consciousness of golf fans all over the world. It was not so much the manner of his New Orleans success that earned him international headlines, but the single-minded way in which he has plotted his course into golf's major league that ensured universal admiration and intrigue. Like Fijian Vijay Singh before him, Franco has proved that neither is it a prerequisite to come from a privileged background, nor a traditional golf-playing nation to make the grade. It's an uplifting thought that ought to act as an inspiration to Asia's wannabe golfing superstars as they head to Shanghai for this week's Volvo China Open. Just consider that Paraguay has even fewer golfing facilities than Hong Kong, with only three courses, 20 professionals and less than 10,000 golfers. Consider also that Franco did not come into the world with a silver spoon in his mouth. He grew up bare-footed in a one-room shack that he shared with his family of nine. Aged eight, he was introduced to golf on the course where his father was a caddie and greenskeeper. It did not take him long to realise that if he became proficient, golf could offer him a life of relative comfort. Since turning professional in 1986, Franco has been driven by that thought, winning 30 tournaments, the majority in South America. It was, though, his decision to venture east in the early 1990s that would set him on the path to fame and fortune beyond his wildest imagination. A play-off victory against South Korea's Choi Sang-ho in the 1994 Philippine Open was the catalyst to winning the Asian Tour's Order of Merit which, in turn, gave him a 12-month exemption on to the lucrative Japanese Tour. He grasped the opportunity, accumulating more than US$2 million in prize money in the ensuing four years during which he also helped to put his country on the world golfing map with an improbable defeat of hosts Scotland in the Alfred Dunhill Cup at St Andrews. A member of last year's victorious International Team at the Presidents Cup, Franco's stock rose further when he secured his US Tour card for 1999. He quickly acclimatised to the 'Big Tour', making five cuts in his first eight tournaments including a joint third finish in the Honda Classic and a tie for sixth in the US Masters, where he had the temerity to briefly lead on the opening day. As the first Paraguayan and only the second South American to win on the US Tour, Franco is now a bona fide sporting hero in the country. 'In Paraguay, I'm better known than Bill Clinton! I'm pretty sure I'll get a parade, maybe more than that,' said Franco after his accomplished closing six-under-par 66 at English Turn took him to victory. Having worked so hard to get where he is, Franco is not about to allow others to capitalise on his dollar-earning capacity, turning away tempting approaches from numerous management companies. While his Canadian caddie looks after his tournament commitments, Franco says he will continue to manage his own money. With the US$468,000 he collected for winning the Compaq Classic, Franco jumped to 12th on the 1999 money list with US$814,520. He now plans to buy a house at Doral Resort in Miami, an eight-hour flight from Paraguay. So, if a South American brought up surrounded by poverty can haul himself up by the boot straps and infiltrate the upper reaches of a sport still dominated by the upper and middle classes, the question needs to be asked why a golfer from Hong Kong cannot do the same. If the will is strong enough, then there's a way. Franco is living proof that in golf, anything's possible. Unearthing Hong Kong's answer to Carlos Franco may be asking too much, but offering SAR golfers the chance to improve their games is the stated aim of an ambitious Causeway Bay retail outlet that celebrates its opening today. Owners David and Debbie Lloyd believe that Improve Your Game Limited (IYGL) will fill a much-needed and neglected void in the local golfing market. From state-of-the-art club-fitting systems to personal tuition, IYGL will provide the type of one-stop shop specialised, personal service that is common in more developed golfing markets.