U.S. WOMEN'S AMATEUR
Rolling Green a Tuneup for Chan on Road to Rio
July 31, 2016 | Springfield, Pa.
By Lisa D. Mickey
Hong Kong’s Tiffany Chan will be one of three amateurs competing in a field of 60 women from around the globe in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, later this month.
That golf competition, the first in the Olympic Games since 1904, will be contested over 72 holes from Aug. 17-20.
But before she proudly wears her country’s uniform, Chan is skipping the Opening Ceremonies on Friday to compete in the 116th U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship at Rolling Green Golf Club. She believes this week’s championship is an important stop in her golf career.
“This is my first USGA championship and it might be the last chance for me to play in a USGA event as an amateur,” said Chan, 22, who will join Leona Maguire, of the Republic of Ireland, and Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, as the three amateurs in the Olympic competition. “I’m really happy that I am here this week and I don’t have any regrets in skipping the opening ceremony at the Olympics.”
Currently No. 15 in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™, Chan earned an exemption into this year’s championship through her top-25 ranking. In prior years when she would have had to qualify, the qualifying tournaments were held while she was home in Hong Kong for the summer.
But even though she could not compete in the U.S. during the summer months, Chan wasn’t idle. At home in Asia, she competed and occasionally won professional tournaments, declining the prize money to keep her amateur status. She won a professional event in Chinese Taipei in 2015, and claimed another professional tournament, the Hong Kong Ladies Open, at home in July.
By her own admission, Chan has come a long way from being a young girl who learned to play golf at a municipal driving range. And she has thrived in spite of the challenges of playing what is a sport for the wealthy in her homeland, coming from a family with modest resources.
“Hong Kong only has five golf courses and four of them are private, really exclusive clubs, and you have to be a member,” she said. “The one that is a public course is far away on an island, but the driving range where I learned would cost maybe $2 or $3 for kids to hit off the mats.”
Eventually, Chan got involved in the junior golf program under the umbrella of the Hong Kong Golf Association, which covered training and travel for the country’s elite juniors.
“The chance to play golf in Hong Kong is not that much, but if you work hard and get involved with the junior program, everything is covered,” said Chan, who speaks English, Cantonese and Mandarin. “That’s how you gain access and that’s how I grew up.”
Chan’s next big step was to leave Hong Kong to play college golf in the U.S. She originally enrolled in an Oklahoma junior college, but the golf coach left, so she transferred to Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Fla., where she played for two years.
While at DSC, she was a two-time first-team National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) All-American (2014, 2015) and twice won the NJCAA individual women's golf championship before graduating and transferring to the University of Southern California, where she will be a senior this fall.
“Tiffany is one of the hardest-working players I've ever coached,” said Daytona State College women’s golf coach Laura Brown. “She was incredibly successful here, winning a school-record 11 events, including two national championships.”
When Chan recently finished 56th in the Olympic’s top-60 qualification rankings to earn her spot in Rio, Brown was not surprised.
“She has been talking about this potential opportunity to play in the Olympics for some time and she has worked really hard to secure her spot,” said Brown. “I couldn’t be more excited for her being able to participate in the Olympics.”
Chan continued to raise the level of her game when she transitioned into NCAA Division I competition at USC.
As a junior, she was a Women’s Golf Coaches Association (WGCA) second-team All-American, and she finished the season as the team’s co-leader in stroke average at 71.97.
She also posted five top-10 finishes, which included five sub-70 rounds. Chan tied for fourth in the NCAA Stanford Regional, tied for 10th in the Pac-12 Championship and finished 10th in the NCAA Championship at Eugene (Ore.) Country Club.
Chan has thrived in the team environment of college golf, and she believes there will be an element of that when she competes in the Olympic golf event.
“You play golf individually, but for the Olympics, you are representing your country,” said Chan, who will be among the 38-athlete Olympic contingent from Hong Kong competing in nine sports. “Even [world No. 1] Lydia Ko will be wearing the New Zealand team outfit at the Olympics. It’s going to be different than traveling to a normal golf tournament.”
Chan will be the only golfer from Hong Kong in the women’s event, but she will have good company on her bag in Steven Lam, a member of the Hong Kong men’s national team. In preparation for the Olympics, Lam is serving as Chan’s caddie this week at Rolling Green.
And like many other athletes in the Olympics, Chan hopes to meet some of her own heroes in golf. First on her list will be Ko, the 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, as well as two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park and 2008 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Lexi Thompson. She also hopes to meet American swimmer Michael Phelps and “maybe some NBA players and Olympic runners.”
As for her expectations, Chan’s goal is to finish the event as the low amateur. Most importantly, she hopes youngsters in Hong Kong will be inspired by her Olympic achievement and view the game as something they can also pursue, regardless of their family’s economic status.
“Just to be called an Olympian is something I will treasure,” said Chan, who plans to turn professional after next year’s NCAAs. “I’ll get to play golf with all the top women golfers in the world. And as an amateur player from such a small country like Hong Kong, stepping on such a big stage means a lot for me and our whole Olympic team.”
Lisa D. Mickey is a Florida-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.