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Clearwater Bay Open

Clearwater Bay Open: Hong Kong golf ace Motin Yeung shows off his playful side and his eye for photography

Youngster in battle to rescue his tour card at PGA Tour-China finale

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 09 October, 2018, 5:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2018, 7:39pm

Hong Kong golfer Motin Yeung has a hidden talent. The PGA Tour-China professional is game to talk about his play on the links, but he is equally interested to show off some of the photos from his recent trip to Whitehorse, Canada, with his girlfriend, where he took some shots of the Northern Lights.

“It is so cold up there, it’s another world of cold,” he said. “It was a cold that I’ve never experienced before, that is for sure.”

Yeung, who will tee off on Thursday in the Clearwater Bay Open (October 11-14), should be a nervous wreck. The only way to secure his card for next year’s Web.com Tour (the feeder for the PGA Tour) is to win. He is seventh on the order of merit, but the 25-year-old is relaxed, chatty and anything but wound up.

He is eager to show off some of his favourite photography shots: a striking cityscape of Seattle at night, salt flats in Bolivia, drone footage he took in Slovakia and various portraits from around Cuba. His talent is obvious, he has an eye for photography. He eagerly climbs into a hole on a stairway behind the Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club clubhouse, helping the South China Morning Post photographer get a better shot of him as his fellow tour members tease him as they pass. His personality is infectious, he is incredibly relaxed for a golfer, keen to share aspects of his life outside the links.

“I have a lot of hobbies but this one is probably my favourite,” he said of photography, noting he also considered learning to be a DJ as he loves EDM (electronic dance music). “My mom always had a camera with her growing up so I kind of took to it naturally.”

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Yeung, who was born in Beijing but has Hong Kong citizenship through his parents, first got into golf in China in 2003, competing in a junior open. His first tournament did not go that well, however.

“I think I shot like 120, or over a hundred at least,” he said.

But Yueng and his dad, who got him into the sport, quickly found out his first tournament was a misnomer. By the time he was 12, it was clear Yeung had raw talent. So his parents packed up the family (Yeung is an only child) and headed off to Orlando, Florida, where golf is not only a pastime, but a way of life. It was here Yueng’s talent flourished.

“My parents wanted to use golf as a way to get me into a good university. In America, it’s a lot different than China, you can play and study.”

When Yueng hit 16 he realised golf was something he might want to do for a career, and he said his “self-motivation” kicked in. While in high school in Orlando, he was the only player from his school to qualify for the state championship, while still in eighth grade. Yeung also got sponsored by Nike, so his integration into American culture went much smoother than most other immigrants, he said.

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“I would just basically go to school and play golf, that was it. And being good at golf made it easy too, the other kids liked me.”

Yeung chose Duke given the university’s emphasis on sports rather than academics, as by that time he had his heart set on going pro after he finished his degree. At 18, he also felt a personal transition take place.

“I think at that time I considered myself American. When I went to college I was pretty Americanised.”

During school (Yeung majored in public policy), he said balancing schoolwork, a social life, and golf was a bit much at times.

“It was probably the toughest time of my life. It was fun but it was a lot of work. You’ve got make time to practice, play, travel for tournaments.

“There’s a lot going on with friends, asking you to hang out. So I had to make a lot of hard decisions.”

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After he graduated from Duke in 2016, he missed out on the PGA qualifying school (commonly known as Q-school) so he took a year to refine his game. Yeung competed in local events in Florida, and now in 2018 he said his game is finally starting to round out.

In July, he won the hearts of the Hong Kong golf community by winning the Kunming Championship in Yunnan, China, playing on a sponsor’s invite. Yeung, who became the first Hong Kong player to win a PGA Tour Series-China event, beat two other players on the first play-off hole, sinking a 10-foot birdie putt in dramatic fashion and finishing with an exuberant celebration.

Looking forward, Yueng can return to Q-school in Arizona in December for another chance to secure his card, but he is not looking past Clearwater Bay right now. During the Clearwater Bay Open media conference on Tuesday, he was blunt in responding to a question about his hopes for the Hong Kong tournament.

“I’m going for the trophy.”