At the Hong Kong Open last month, debutant teenage golfer Alexander Yang had the experience of a lifetime.
The 17-year-old was welcomed by a flock of young golf fans reaching out for autographs and selfies, after he stunned the crowd by finishing as the best-placed amateur, and the highest ranked Hong Kong player, with an incredible seven-below-par score of 68 in the final round.
Placing 13th in his first professional tournament was not only a personal breakthrough for Alexander; he’s also made history for the city by making the weekend cut along with three local golfers, marking the highest number of Hongkongers in the third and fourth rounds in tournament history.
With his impressive run at the Open, it is very likely that he will be invited to play in the next edition in November.
Reflecting on his weekend competition in his hometown, the US-based teenager tells Young Post in a phone interview that he was pleased with his performance in general, but felt he could have made more putts to achieve an even lower score.
“I was really, really solid and hit the ball very well with my irons. Unfortunately, I didn’t make that many putts until the last day, which prevented me from scoring low,” he says.
The golf prodigy picked up the sport right before he left Hong Kong at the age of four. He lived in Taiwan and Australia briefly, before settling in the US state of California when he was nine, where he began to take golf more seriously.
After spending more than a decade playing the sport, Alexander said he is “addicted” to the game of golf, because the thrill of winning is irresistible, and the ever-changing conditions on the course mean he never finds the game boring.
“Addicted is kind of a strong word, but I love the game. There is an endless amount of options for every shot, and I love finding what works best for me on the course,” he says.
Alexander has taken part in many junior competitions in the States, but after being freshly recruited by the Hong Kong Golf Association in 2018, he now has an opportunity to represent the city on a world stage. Fans in Hong Kong have pinned their hopes on this rising star, but Alexander says the road to success is far from a hole in one.
The teen golfer has encountered countless “off-months” in his career, during which he’d suddenly lose his groove on the course. Luckily his slumps never lasted too long, thanks to his coach who guided him to take a fresh look at his goals, and helped him identify what was missing in his training.
“You need to trust your coach and tell them how you feel. I can figure out what’s wrong with my play fairly quickly because I have a good relationship with my coach,” he says.
While a coach can help him overcome hurdles on the course, Alexander is on his own when it comes to juggling school work and training. While many American student athletes turn to online schooling once they start playing at an elite level, Alexander, who is in his penultimate year at secondary school, chooses to stay in a physical school that provides a flexible class arrangement to accommodate his practice schedule.
“Regular school hours in the US are from 8am to 3pm, but I skip the non-core classes on a few days and can get out two hours earlier. That gives me more time to train,” the Pacific Ridge School student says.
Unlike most students in his year, who are stressing about their SAT, the standardised test used for university admission in the US, Alexander took the exams two years ago. But this doesn’t mean his stress is completely over: he has been verbally committed to the prestigious Stanford University, which he is due to start in autumn 2021, so he needs to keep working hard.
In the meantime, Alexander hopes he can concentrate on two junior events in the US – the AAJA Simplify Boys’ Championship being held this weekend, and the Thunderbird International Junior in April.
“I go into every tournament wanting to win; those two are no different,” he says.
Alexander says he hopes that after playing college golf for a few years, he will turn professional and get into the PGA Tour as soon as possible. With his solid performance in Hong Kong against other golfing pros, the up-and-coming star is confident he can build a career in his favourite sport.
“By improving every aspect of my game little by little, I don’t think making it to the PGA Tour is a long shot. One day I will be playing among the best for a living.”