Back to school: Hong Kong amateur Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching sets sights on LPGA Tour card after Olympic Games adventure
The history-making 22-year-old, who finished 37th overall in Rio de Janeiro, will play in the first round of the Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour qualifying tournament later this week in California
Making history has become something of a habit for Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching. In just the past few months the amateur golfer has won her home tournament and another professional event, and qualified for the Olympic Games as the sport returned after a 112-year absence.
The 22-year-old has taken every challenge in her stride and now embarks on an another daunting quest – to become Hong Kong’s first-ever golfer on a major professional tour by coming through the LPGA’s gruelling three-stage qualifying competition.
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After recording a final day two-under-par 69 at the Olympic course, it was straight to the airport for Chan, her caddie Steven Lam Tsz-fung and coach Brad Schadewitz.
They were heading to the Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California, where stage one of qualifying school begins on Thursday.
Chan, one of only three amateurs in the 60-strong field in Rio de Janeiro, signed for a four-over-par total and finished 37th overall.
Although Chan didn’t go as low as she would have liked, there’s no doubt the experience of holding her own alongside the world’s best will stand her in good stead as she looks to earn a more permanent place among them.
The qualifying school takes place in August, October and the end of November. The top 60 and ties from stage one go through to stage two, the top 80 and ties from there to stage three.
The final number who win tour cards is to be confirmed, but is usually around 20. Those who make the cut in the final qualifying tournament earn a place on the second-tier Symetra Tour.
“If I get lucky enough and play well enough, advancing to the third stage is my goal and we’ll see how it goes from there,” said Chan.
“If I’m playing well and make it I’ll turn pro, if not I’ll stay at USC [University of Southern California] and finish my last half year, so both ways is a good plan.”
LPGA Tour awaits: University of Southern California coach tips Hong Kong’s Tiffany Chan to build on Olympic Games qualification
Chan is in her final year of a communications degree, and if she gets to stage three, she could have a big advantage, as the club in Daytona Beach, Florida, was her ‘home’ ground while playing for junior college Daytona State.
Schadewitz has worked at all three courses over which stage one is played, though he has been in Hong Kong for 22 years.
“It is a tough process, you’ve got to prove yourself over different courses and three different months, so it’s kind of cool I used to work at the courses – and then if she makes it all the way to finals she knows the course very well and even caddied in Q School there two years ago for one of her friends,” said Schadewitz.
Chan encountered unfamiliar conditions at the dry, hard, almost links-like Olympic course, having played the vast majority of her golf on traditional American layouts.
“Seeing all the good players [in Rio], obviously they have more advantage growing up, in Europe, even Koreans and Japanese, they have so many golf courses,” she said.
WATCH: Tiffany Chan becomes the first Hong Kong golfer to play in the Olympics
“They grew up learning how to play different styles while I started playing in different conditions much later so I’m still in the process.”
Schadewitz added: “I think it’s big, just for self-belief and I was pretty impressed with her confidence in Rio , and at the US Women’s Amateur [the previous week].
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“She feels comfortable in this environment which is very impressive. She’s really calm, enjoyed every bit of it, is in good form and she’s ready.
“It’s not much rest, but it’s California, similar time zone, where she lives and we know the golf course.
“I think this experience [in Rio] will definitely be a positive in going there.”
After some highly successful years on the competitive US college circuit, Chan has the belief she can make it in the professional ranks.
“I came to the States like four years ago so when I started playing more and facing more people and working more on my short game I started to realise that I might be able to compete with the top players,” she said.
“We all grew up together, we’ve known each other a long time. That’s my goal to analyse why I’m still an amateur and they’re already winning tournaments.”
For Schadewitz, it would be the culmination of all his work honing Hong Kong golfers.
“When I started the job some of my goals were to get kids in colleges and go from there,” he said. “Probably four or five years ago I started thinking one of the big goals was to get a player on a major tour, and two or three years ago we started thinking Tiff had a shot at that.
“It would be huge [for Hong Kong golf]. You saw the way the fans reacted to her win at the Hong Kong Open and they’re dying to cheer for somebody.
“The golf community in Hong Kong is really strong and it’s great we have a local champion – the icing on the cake would be for her to play on the tour full-time.
“When you think about sports in Hong Kong, golf is a top-five worldwide sport, not many athletes in Hong Kong are taking part in sports that are that big worldwide.
“All that work, I’ve known her since she was eight, we have travelled all over the world together, and at every level she’s up to the task so I think she’ll do the same at the next level. It’s only a matter of time.”
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