16-year-old local qualifier Amelia Yong joined her two mentors at this week's HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore, wearing a new cap, new shirt and with a brand new golf bag. The local schoolgirl's appearance as she talked with the two Southeast Asian players – Malaysia's Siew-Ai Lim and Thailand's Virada Nirapathpongporn – was just the most obvious of many benefits that she says go far beyond her own new-found determination to do herself justice as the first Singaporean to play in an LPGA event for over 30 years.
"Before I was actually quite relaxed I didn't really train much. I was just playing around. Now, because I want to play well there's a big difference. The other girls who played in the qualifier are already looking at next year. It's pushed them to train harder too. It's also helped the other players in my team, because I can tell them what it is like to play in an LPGA event. It's brought the dream closer."
Siew-Ai and Virada, who earned their invites for being the top-ranked ASEAN players at the end of 2007, had agreed to share their experiences and knowledge with Amelia, not just for the event but also to help guide her should she decide to follow through on her desire to become a tournament professional.
Both feel the US$2 million event at Tanah Merah Country Club will breathe new life into women's golf in the region, including raising the quality of the Honda LPGA Thailand event when it re-enters the calendar in 2009 and beyond.
"I think the interest is generated not just among local golfers, but also among the corporate world," said Siew-Ai, a 33-year-old whose best result on the LPGA was second place at the 2004 Kellog-Keebler Classic.
"The corporations start to see the value of entertaining clients, they start seeing the benefits of having the tour in town. The community also will see a huge economic impact. A tour like this generates a lot of business, hotels start to fill up, family members come to see the tournament. There's a lot of benefits."
But the plusses for women's golf in the region go far beyond dollars and cents, because as HSBC's Head of Sponsorship Giles Morgan explained, the interest in the game will go through the roof.
"The media coverage has already been absolutely sensational," he said.
"Of course a sponsor wants to get their name in print, but it's more than that. We wanted to see a recognition from the media that women's golf has absolutely flourished in the last 15 or 20 years, particularly in Asia. And for us to be able to sponsor an event that recognizes that internationally is terribly important. The attention has been amazing and that will only increase the interest and speed the development of women's golf here.
"The combination of having the superstars of the game as well as the regional champions and someone like Amelia is really special. If we can encourage kids to emulate their heroes and get involved in golf what a wonderful legacy that will leave."
The immediate legacy is that it's created a new determination in one young girl who will take her place among the game's legends this week.
"She sounds like she's on the right track," said the 25-year-old Virada.
"She seems comfortable. She seems to be enjoying her opportunity."
Both Virada and Siew-Ai encouraged Amelia to continue her studies. The two players started their careers through college scholarships in the United States and then reached the LPGA via the Futures Tour. Coincidentally they both majored in Psychology and favour further education as a way of acquiring the experience and wisdom needed to improve her golf.
"For me it was good for me to get a scholarship because that opened the opportunity to play college golf," said Siew-Ai before sharing some of the pleasures of the tournament golfers life.
"We have a tremendous opportunity as professional golfers to meet people from all over the world," she said.
"I have friends from Australia, North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Asia I have friends from all over the world now. You learn about how to make travel arrangements on your own, how to negotiate airports, you pick up languages on the way; a lot of life skills."
"And there are those special weeks like this where you get put up at the Ritz-Carlton," added Virada with a smile.
photo Dan Vernon
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photo Dan Vernon