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New Star of the East

What a wonderful thing for HSBC, the bank whose golf sponsorships include the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore and the Men’s Champions in China. Some years ago, when names like Lorena Ochoa and Yani Tseng were to the fore in the women’s game, HSBC embarked on a junior programme and talked of their determination to get more girls into golf.

With that in mind, they held children’s age-group championships in China at the time of the 2007 Men’s Champions and invited the winners among the girls to travel to Singapore to play a single hole alongside the stars on the pro-am day at the Women’s Champions of the following year at the Tanah Merah Country Club.

A 13-year by name of Liu Yu, who finished today’s first round in the HSBC Women’s World Championship in a share of the lead, was one of the little girls involved.

She wasn’t that passionate about golf at the time but, after playing her short hole with a bunch of the top players, including Ochoa and Tseng, she began to think a little differently.

Then, by the time she had spent a full week staying in the players’ hotel (all expenses paid) her mind was made up. She herself wanted to be a professional.

“That week made all the difference,” she said. “Had I just been an ordinary spectator, I probably wouldn’t have seen very much or got to know the players as well as I did.”

From being unable to speak English, she learned the language inside out with a view to winning a golf scholarship at an American university. She succeeded on that front and, after playing in the successful Duke team in her first year, decided to make an early move to the professional scene.

“I loved my time at Duke but I wanted to play as a professional even more,” she explained.
Currently ranked 72 in the world, Liu was playing alongside Anna Nordqvist and Jeong Eun Lee as she notched as many as five birdies in her four-under-par 68.

Asked to select the best of those birdies, the one which she would have wanted on TV (which it was), she chose her four at the last. There, she hit from 155 yards to 16 feet and slotted the putt for the three which took her back to the top of the leaderboard after she had dropped a shot on 17.

There’s always a crowd for everyone in Singapore and, straightaway, Liu’s Chinese fans all wanted to be photographed with this rising star of the East. It was no hardship for her. She was loving every minute of it.

Back in her junior squad days in China, Liu would almost certainly have featured on the team of children who were given half an hour’s tuition from Colin Montgomerie. When the sometimes stormy Scot was told that he was to talk to them about keeping their cool under pressure, he suddenly had second thoughts,

“Excuse me,” he said to the Chinese coach who was overseeing things, “but if that’s the subject, I think that they should be teaching me.”