Jonathan Wallett, Golf Development Director of HKGA, believes HK can become the Asian equivalent of Sweden, which produced major championship winning golfers such as Annika Sorenstam and Henrik Stenson.
Let’s take a look at the story of Swedish Golf. Until the mid1980s they had never had a winner on a Professional Tour - and why should they? They were not a golfing country, and with short summers and cold winters, it was an unlikely environment for success. Back in 1985, the National Coach was a young female coach called Pia Nilsson. A visionary as a coach, she identified that her most prominent task was to confront this cultural belief that they were not a golfing country and had little chance of success. She understood that this was a limiting belief that acted like a cloud around every player. At a National Training Camp, she asked the players if they had, at one time in their golfing life, had a birdie on the 1st hole of their home course. Everyone said yes, at one time or another he or she had had a birdie on the 1st hole. She then asked each player if they had had a birdie on hole 2 of their home course. They all said yes. She continued this until hole 18 and then pronounced that if they had at one time or another had a birdie on every hole at their home course, then potentially they can score 54, 18 under par. Everyone laughed and said that would be impossible - but she retorted why. Surely theoretically it’s possible if at one time or another each player had birdied every hole? The Vision 54 concept was born, and the change was amazing - it shows the power of belief and especially cultural belief. A young player on that team was Annika Sorenstam who went on to become World No.1 and probably the greatest lady player in the history of the game to date.
In essence what happened is that Pia was able to instil a ‘no limits’ mindset in her players. It was a wonderful piece of big picture coaching which changed the golfing landscape for Sweden forever - with Henrik Stenson’s victory at the 2016 British Open the latest Swedish success of which there have been many over the last three decades.
Our mission with the HK Player Development Program is to instil a similar ‘no limits’ mindset and create a platform whereby HK Junior Players can choose their ambitions in the game without limits - so this can range from just playing golf for fun, to gaining a College Scholarship, or at the highest level to play successfully professionally.
Tiffany Chan’s meteoric rise is our best opportunity to now establish a mentor for the next generation and her pioneering exploits - first as a golfing Olympian and then as the first HK player to be a holder of LPGA Tour Card - forge a pathway and a vision for the local players to aspire. The seeds of this success were planted many years ago through the continued expansion of the Junior Development Program under the auspices of National Coach Brad Schadewitz, HKGA Committee Members, Team Captains, Presidents and past and current Chairmen’s such as Kelvin Inge, William Chung, David Hui and Robert Keys.
Historically the HK Team average position from 2010 to 2015 in team events was two-thirds of the way down the field - or 0.67 - so if there were 100 teams we would on average finish 67th. Now over the last 12 months, we have finished 4th in both the Men and Ladies World University Team Championship, 4th in the China
National Games, 7th at the Nomura Cup and 9th at the World Universidad in Taiwan last summer against such heavyweights as England, USA and Australia. In 2 team tournaments, we finished an agonising one shot behind a medal position, but the big picture is if we continue on the same trajectory over the next few years further success is all but guaranteed.
We are starting to build momentum. Individual players like Leon D’Souza, who made the cut in the HK Open last December, recently won the NCAA College II Individual Championship in the USA. Matthew Cheung finished 2nd in the Western Australia Amateur Championship earlier this year against a stellar field of 156 elite amateurs. Terrence Ng recently tied for 1st place in the Selangor Masters in Malaysia and lost in a playoff. Taichi Kho won the HK Junior Championship with a total of -9 and had earned himself a scholarship at the illustrious Notre Dame University. In the Ladies section, Mimi Ho has played consistently well in the USA and is currently at a careerhigh World Ranking. Behind her, Izzy Leung has been delivering progressing results with 5th in the World University Championship and T22nd in the HK Ladies Open. Michelle Cheung finished 3rd in the Selangor Masters in Malaysia as well as T29 in the HK Ladies Open and no longer are our players competing in the tournament just to make up the field. Behind these front-line players are talented and smart working youngsters like Chloe Chan, Ginnie Ding and Selina Li to name but a few.
To precipitate this success, it requires processes, structure and systems based on our 4 Quadrants Player Development Model. The first quadrant is Access - and 24 Golf Memberships from HKGC, four from CWB as well as increasing course access at all HK golf facilities has been a game changer. The second quadrant – tournaments – has progressed and our top players are getting the opportunity through the HKGA office administration to have rich experiences playing against the top players both regionally and globally.
The last 2 quadrants – Coaching and Instruction – have progressed whereby we have camps at HKGC utilising worldrenowned experts like Golf Psychologist Dr Brian Hemmings (formerly Lead Psychologist to England Golf for 17 years and nurtured the talents such as Tommy Fleetwood, Danny Willett, Ross Fisher and Chris Wood) and Biomechanist Ryan Lumsden (players like Minjee Lee, Lydia Ko, Henrik Stenson and Thomas Pieters).
Players in the HK Talent Team get regular and ongoing coaching with me, and we are now launching the HK Junior Talent Team whereby in the future the best 11-16 years old will gain access to these consultants.
Then perhaps the most significant development is the emergence of the HKGA Contracted Coaching Team over the last two years – whereby 8 to 10 local HKPGA coaches are now regularly involved in delivering the HKGA class program on a weekly basis marshalled by HKGA Junior Development Manager Ducky Tang. This has allowed us to start building a cobweb at the lower and middle levels of the Player Funnel and whilst we are the first to acknowledge there is a long way to go there is more activity at every level season by season. Alongside this, excellent private coaches are working at golf facilities in HK who have made significant contributions to Player Development in HK.
Could HK become the Asian equivalent of Sweden? In several decades time, we may not be churning out the quantity of players Korea or Japan does. However, I firmly believe with the right structure and processes in place we can be the jewel of Asia regarding quality and have male players competing in tournaments like the Masters and British Open, and female players winning on the LPGA. After all, HK is a high achieving society, so let’s strive to become the Asian equivalent of Sweden in Europe and break down the cultural barriers and absorb a no-limits mindset.
Leon D’Souza not just made the cut in the HK Open last December, and also recently won the NCAA College II Individual Championship in the USA