Challenges of an Aspiring Tour Pro
Genevieve Ling, is a young aspiring professional player, working hard to make her way to the LPGA. That story in itself is not unusual, but taking that path from Malaysia is. When we think of golfers from the Orient, Malaysia does not come to mind as readily as say South Korea or Japan, but golf in Malaysia, like its Southeast Asian neighbour of Thailand, is growing. Genevieve or Genny to her friends, first started the game of golf when she was 12 years of age, tagging along with her father and sister to the practice range, "my father decided to take up golf so he brought both of us to the golf course when he took his lessons."
After a successful career playing NCAA Division 1 golf with Boise State University, Ling embarked upon a professional career. She attended the LPGA Q-School tournament, advancing to stage 2 before missing the cut to advance to the last stage. Nonetheless, she had advanced far enough to gain her status to play on the Symetra Tour.
"I had status to play on the Symetra Tour, but then I had this interesting opportunity come to me. I had been invited to participate in the Korean version of 'Big Break' – a golf television show called Cinderella Story that was for the Korean audience."
The reality television show was held in Ling's native Malaysia in January 2018, with the top two winners advancing on to the KLPGA tour for that year. The KLPGA is South Korea's top tour for women, gaining a reputation for producing some of the best talent in the women's game. Some of the world's top players like Inbee Park (winner of 7 majors), Hana Jang, So Yeon Ryu and In Gee Chun have played on the KLPGA.
After a series of events and eliminations, Ling was one of the two winners of the event, gaining her automatic entry into 10 - ten events on the KLPGA for 2018. Both she and fellow competitor, Jessica Peng Chieh, were the winners of the event, making their way to South Korea shortly afterwards to embark upon the 2018 season. She shares her experience of playing on the KLPGA with me "it was an 'eye opener' for sure. I was a competitive player and always want to do well, but there is so much to learn about the KLPGA and the players there." She then adds "I went into the Cinderella Story playing my own equipment, but when I won, I was required to play a new bag of equipment and that took some time getting used to."
I ask her to reflect on her year of playing on the KLPGA in 2018 and after a few pensive moments, she responds "I was satisfied with my time there because it was a great learning experience. I learned what it was like to play on such a competitive tour" and then after another moment of reflection, she adds "the KLPGA has such great players, it is the top tour in Korea and just look at how many players from the KLPGA have won the US (Women's) Open." It's a point worth exploring. Since 2000, there have been 19 US Women's Opens held with 8 winners being from South Korea. All of them have played events or full seasons on the KLPGA.
China and Taiwan LPGA
After her season on the KLPGA, Ling went to qualifying school – for both the CLPGA (Chinese LPGA) and the Taiwan LPGA, where she qualified for both tours. "There are quite a few events that are co-sanctioned by both tours, so that makes it easier to play on both (tours)" explains Ling on how she juggles her tour commitments. "I found the courses in China to be well groomed and maintained, they are designed in a way that if you are striking the ball well, you can score really well."
By comparison, she explains that the Taiwan LPGA is a completely different challenge, "my first year in Taiwan was a bit of a struggle. The greens were much slower, but very hard (firm); it made it very hard to stay on the green, so you need to learn how to approach each green, where to aim and how to get it close to the hole." I ask her why the greens and the courses were so different in Taiwan, "well, I think a lot of it has to do with the typhoons that they get there, it makes it very difficult to play," she adds "the greens were very slow, maybe a 6 - six on the stimp, the grass was very long for greens."
Such conditions often require creativity from its players, learning how to hit different shots, to control the trajectory of their ball so that the effects of the wind is minimized, or to account for the firm greens with approach shots that land on the fairway and run up and into the greens.
"I was having to learn the courses (in Taiwan) and how to play them. I was learning to hit low balls uphill and into the greens. My putting had to be firm so that I could get it to the hole and not come up short."
After a solid year in 2019, we discuss how 2020 had started for her. "I was pleased, the first event of the year (in Taiwan) is their biggest event of the season. I had a tough first round, but I managed to make the cut with a 68 in the second round ... I finished at T32 and was satisfied" she says of her performance. It becomes clear that her previous year's experience taught Ling valuable lessons in course strategy.
Genevieve Ling was at home in Kuala Lumpur, when she received word that the next event on the professional tour – the Hong Kong Ladies Open, was initially postponed and then eventually cancelled as a precaution against the Covid19 medical emergency. As the cancelled events started to mount, Ling found herself becoming isolated, not only from the game she loves, but the pursuit of her LPGA goal. She is a tough competitor, after all, she attained a "black belt" in Tae Kwon Do at the tender age of 12, so she has brought that quiet determination to bear during this period of an "imposed layoff".
"The Malaysian economy is not doing so good, the political situation here contributes to it ... companies are not wanting to sponsor ... especially with money"
Her daily practice and training regimes have been disrupted by Covid19 as well, confining her to her condo for much of the time. Fortunately, her discipline and commitment serve her well.
"I have been getting up a little later than I normally would. I am still working hard on little drills such as putting and some swing practice. I like to use the speed sticks (SuperSpeed ) to work on my swing. My putting drills help me practice my speed. Sometimes, I will use the other drill ( similar to a "gate drill" )." The drill involves her putting the ball through a small opening, helping her practice clean contact between the putter and the ball with the goal of consistently starting her ball on a straight path.
On her usual practice and training days, she would rise at 6 am, arriving at her home course of TPC - Kuala Lumpur by 7:30 am. After a short warm up on the range, she often plays a round of 18 holes at 9 am. Then, afterwards and depending on how well her round went, she will usually end up at the range to work on her swing, then a session of chipping and putting before leaving at 4 pm for home. Most of her programs are designed for "high intensity" interval training — workouts, mixing intervals of cardiovascular and resistance training. Yoga also forms a big part of her routine, becoming one of her exercises that she can continue during this period of "self isolation".
The Asian Professional Dilemma
Genevieve's dream goal of playing on the LPGA is also suspended at the moment. "I cannot afford to go to Q-School this season, especially after such a layoff like this year" she says. The LPGA has postponed the Stage 1 event from mid-August to Mid-October, with the Stage 2 qualifying tournament to follow sometime in November. But, like so many things in this year of the coronavirus, one cannot plan or prepare for these events with any certainty.
"I really want to put a proper plan together so that when I go to Q-School (in the United States), I will be prepared. It means that I will have to put together the finances and some help (with accommodations and travel). There are three events for the Q-Series and when the last one is over, I am going to have to be based in the United States in order to play." She does not presume to qualify, so much as taking a realistic approach to being ready for Q-School.
As we discuss her plan and assembling a support team, it becomes apparent that 2020 is definitely "off the table" for her. She will have to get everything together for 2021. "There is only one player from Malaysia on the LPGA (Kelly Tan), she requalified for her tour card last year, but I don't know how many events she got to play so far" she says. "The Malaysian economy is not doing good, the political situation here contributes to it, companies are not wanting to sponsor players . . . especially with money (as opposed to goods or services in-kind )."
I ask her about playing on the Symetra Tour if she should not make it into the group of players qualifying for LPGA status. "I think it would be better to come home again and try to qualify for the JLPGA (Japan) or the KLPGA (Korea)" she says. It makes sense, the Symetra Tour, the developmental tour for the LPGA, simply does not have the same number of events as the LPGA and with only a fraction of the prize money on offer to the players. The JLPGA has become the second most lucrative women's tour in the world, second only to the LPGA. The JLPGA also counts some of the best players from Korea as well. Former world number one, Jiyai Shin of South Korea, plays on the JLPGA as does the 2019 British Women's Open winner, Hinako Shibuno and another former World Number one in Ai Miyazato before retiring in 2017. Another bonus, is that the travel is far less compared to the main LPGA.
While the money on the LPGA may be significantly higher than that on the JLPGA, the costs, both financially and social, are less in Asia, making it an attractive option for Asian women. Given the economic slowdown resulting from the Covid19 situation, it remains to be seen how well the economies of the world rebound and whether golf and other sports rebound to the heights they achieved in the pre-Covid19 era. It may just be a significant factor for Genevieve in deciding which path to choose.
Q & A – Lightning Round
Q1: What is your “hometown”?
A — Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Q2: What University/College did you attend?
A — Boise State University and my major was communication.
Q3: What is your best golf memory?
A — I have so many! My favorite professional memory would be my last three years in Saujana Golf Club in Malaysia as I won my first professional event there after turning pro in 2017 and then proceeded to win that tournament again in 2018 and 2019! There’s no better feeling than going into a tournament with the “pressure” to win and coming back with the trophy.
Q4: What is your favourite fitness activity? (gym or training wise)
A — I like lifting weights and doing yoga but I also like to challenge myself and try new workouts every now and then to mix up my workouts and keep it exciting. Right now, I have been working on jumping rope consistently every morning!
Q5: What is your favourite course that you have played?
A — I loved playing at Dinah Shore in Mission Hills, Rancho Mirage. We played there every year for our conference tournament in college and unfortunately, we never won our conference tournament and thus, never got to jump into Poppy’s Pond!
Q6: Who is your favourite person to play a round of golf with?
A — I love playing golf with my dad. We started golf together and till this day, he is still very supportive of me and my choice to turn professional.
Q7: Who is the toughest competitor in women’s golf today?
A — I wouldn’t say there is one in particular. You see different people lift the trophy up each week because of this.
Q8: What is your most memorable golf shot or putt?
A — Right now, I would say the most memorable golf shot and putt came from my first playoff which was during my first professional tournament (the one in Saujana). It was the second playoff hole and I had hit my driver where I wanted it to be, and decided to go for the green in two. Had a 5 wood from around 210 yards over water and flushed it to a foot and had a tap in for eagle to win the playoff. That was probably my most memorable shot and putt to date!
Q9: If you could win one event – which would it be?
A — the ANA Inspiration!
Q10: You get to form a foursome for a round of golf. Besides you, who would you like to play with (past or present / alive or deceased)?
A — Tiger Woods, my dad (Peter), Bernhard Langer.
WITB – What’s in your bag for 2020?
Driver: Ping G400 - Paderson shaft
3 wood, 5 wood: Ping G410 - Ping tour shaft 65S
Hybrid: 22 degree Ping G410 - Ping tour shaft 85S
Irons: Ping G410 - Zelos 8 NS PRO Stiff shafts (steel)
Wedges: Will be putting in Titleist SM8’s 48, 52, 58 degrees, AMT Red S300 shafts
Putter: Scotty Cameron Phantom X 5.5 - 33 inch
I am very thankful for each one of my sponsors. My sponsors include Titleist (balls, gloves, shoes) and Footjoy (apparel), TPC Kuala Lumpur, and PuttOut golf. I am very thankful for each one of my sponsors.
Facebook Page: @genevievelinggolf