Hong Kong golfer Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching takes on the final stage of her gruelling bid to join the professional LPGA tour this week, hoping her familiarity with the courses can prove key.
Olympian Chan, 23, has already battled through the first two stages of the LPGA’s lengthy qualifying process, and joins a field of 157 players in the five-round final showdown in Florida.
The top 20 players after five rounds receive full tour cards, the next 25 partial cards. Those who make the cut for the final round earn a place on the second-tier Symetra Tour.
With players able to enter at different stages depending on their status, Chan is among only 36 who have fought all the way from the first stage in August to the final.
She is among only 10 amateurs in the field and faces a massive task to make it, but coach Brad Schadewitz hopes her familiarity with the Jones and Hill courses at LPGA International will help – she played them umpteen times as the golf club was her ‘home’ venue at junior college.
“It’s tough to make it,” admitted Schadewitz.
“But she played the courses for two years as it was her home course while at Daytona State. So it has a home course feeling for her.
“She feels good about her game and is looking forward to playing back in Daytona.”
And the Hong Kong Golf Association head coach hopes her experience of taking on the world’s best at the Olympics will also stand her in good stead.
“It’s five rounds so it’s a bit of a grind. She just needs to get plenty of rest, eat well and stay hydrated while playing,” he added.
“She has a lot of great experience from earlier in the year to draw upon.”
The event runs from Wednesday to Sunday US time. After the fourth round, the top 70 and ties go through to the final round.
“I think she’s done well in the first two stages, she’s got as good a chance of anyone in the field and we all wish her good luck,” said Kenneth Lam Sze-ken, captain of the Hong Kong Golf Club, who hopes Chan can inspire a whole new generation of local talent. “We’re extremely excited to have a member of our club so close to the biggest tour in women’s golf.
“It’s absolutely huge – to find an analogy [it would be] like having a local football player playing in the English Premier League. It would be a huge boost to the sport following her qualification to the Olympics … and gives the juniors in Hong Kong something to look up to.
“Also if you look at Tiffany’s profile, now she in last year at USC … it fits the aspirations of Hong Kong parents as well, you can actually have your child being a top athlete and having a great education.
“We’re so excited at the club basically she grew up from HKGA junior training regime playing at all our courses since she was very young and seeing her performance [in winning] the Hong Kong Ladies open and now on the verge of qualifying for the biggest tour, we’re so excited.”
Chan still has a year left at her college, University of Southern California, and if she fails to make the Tour will return to finish her studies before mounting another challenge.
Chan finished 37th overall in her history-making appearance at the Rio Olympics, holding her own against the world’s best players. She was solid throughout but had a double-bogey or two in each of her first three rounds.
“If I get lucky enough and play well enough, advancing to the third stage [of Q-School] is my goal and we’ll see how it goes from there,” said Chan in August.
“If I’m playing well and make it I’ll turn pro, if not I’ll stay at USC and finish my last half year, so both ways is a good plan.”
Chan was tied 48th of 342 players in stage 1 of the qualifying competition (92 advanced) and tied 24th of 193 in stage two (84 advanced).
Beth Allen, world No.63 and the Order of Merit leader on the Ladies European Tour, is the highest ranked player in the field. There are eight players from the world top 200 competing, and three former winners on the LPGA Tour.
Chan made history when she qualified for the Olympics by winning professional events in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and was one of only three amateurs to make it to Rio.