2004: Special Report - Driven to compete
Mu Hu loves golf.
Hu loves the game so much that he gave up life in China to pursue his dreams in the United States. The teen-ager recently demonstrated that passion for golf by making the jaunt from his home in Celebration, Fla., to Beijing to compete in the inaugural China Masters last month.
“It was an honor to be invited and play in the event,” Hu said.
Hu, the youngest player in the field at age 14, managed two rounds of 74 for a 4-over 148 total. Although he missed the cut by two shots, Hu gave the China golf community a glimpse of the future.
“Some of the pros I played with were telling me I hit it just like I was a pro,” said Hu, who was outdriving his playing partners by 15 to 20 yards.
But last month’s trip wasn’t his first back to his home country to play in a golf tournament. Earlier this year, Hu made the trek from Florida to Hainan, China, then back to Hilton Head Island, S.C., so he could compete in two junior tournaments in the same week on two continents.
“I was tired,” said Hu, who is No. 204 in the Golfweek⁄Titleist Performance Index. “I had traveled for two days and only slept four hours in 48 hours.”
On Feb. 5 at 5:30 p.m. in China, Hu, who had just won the China Junior Open Championship (to earn a spot in the 2004 Junior British Open), packed his clubs and headed east to Hilton Head. After boarding four different planes, Hu finally arrived at Sea Pines Resort at 2:40 a.m. EST Feb. 6, allowing him only a few hours of sleep before his 11 a.m. tee time in the first round of the MCI Junior Classic.
Why would any parent permit such rigorous travel just to play in a junior tournament?
“He told me, ‘Mom, I really want to play in this event,’ ” said Hu’s mother, Li Juan (Jenny) Wang. “He said that he looked over the field and said there are some really good players here, ones who could beat him, and he wanted to play against them.”
That was one of the reasons Hu and his family moved to the United States 21⁄2 years ago.
Hu first traveled to the United States for the 2000 Junior World Golf Championships at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, where he missed the cut. After seeing the competition in their son’s first junior event overseas, his parents decided to follow the advice of a family friend and get Mu, then 10, some lessons. They enrolled him in a weeklong golf school in Monterey, Calif., and it took just a few lessons to see his potential.
“At that time we decided the United States is the best place for our son if he wants to play golf,” Wang said. “Over here you have very good players, they are very competitive.
In China, there are not as many good players.”
One year later, Wang left China and moved with her son to Florida so Hu could attend the David Leadbetter Golf Academy. The family bought a villa on the Leadbetter campus in Bradenton, Fla., where Hu received instruction and schooling.
“They’re just really gung ho about him playing the game professionally,” Leadbetter said. “I’d say he’s probably the best 14-year-old in the (U.S.). . . . He flat out hits it. He’s got a lot of talent, this kid.”
But there was something missing.
“He missed his life in China very much,” Wang said. “He loved China.”
Back home, Hu’s father, Jian Song Hu, continued to run the family elevator business, which was bankrolling his son’s future. The company employs approximately 100 people and is an agent for Otis Elevators.
“It was difficult for us because my husband was going back and forth, and I stayed here with (Mu),” Wang said. “The first year was a little bit tough for all of us.”
The family continues to adapt, but Mu still yearns for his homeland.
“I miss it a lot,” said Hu, who talks to his father daily on the phone. “I miss the foods, of course, and my friends. It feels good to go back home. I might go twice a year and my dad comes here two to three times a year for two months.”
After two years in Bradenton, the family moved to the Orlando area, where the David Leadbetter Academy at ChampionsGate is located.
Hu is now a freshman at the Crenshaw School for the Performing Arts in Orlando. He goes to the Leadbetter Academy after school each day to practice and receive an occasional lesson from Leadbetter.
“He teaches me maybe 30-40 minutes twice in one month, to check out my swing and see how everything is going,” said Hu, who has become acquainted with professional players such as Ty Tryon, Charles Howell III and David Gossett through his association with Leadbetter. “It helps me to see them practice every once in a while.”
Hu, who won the 2003 Florida State Junior Championship in the 12-14 division, knows he still has a long way to go to achieve his goals of playing college golf and then the PGA Tour.
“I feel school is much easier over here,” Hue said. “In China, there was a lot more homework.”
And as each day goes by, his life in America gets easier. Even if he’s not crazy about the food, he is still crazy about golf.