Chinese community supports Tseng at Kraft

Yani Tseng during the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship

Yani Tseng during the third round of the Kraft Nabisco Championship

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Top-ranked Yani Tseng is ready to defend her Kraft title.

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Last week at the Kia Classic, tournament officials drove in stakes as Yani Tseng was signing autographs to give the white-picket-fence fans packed around extra support. The Chinese community came out in droves at Industry Hills, Koreans too. Those who had been around for Se Ri Pak’s introduction to the game 13 years ago saw similarities in the novice fans.

World No. 1 Tseng had more organized support over the weekend at the Kraft Nabisco. Nearby Oak Valley Golf Club purchased 368 tickets for members and local Chinese-Americans living in San Gabriel. They chartered a bus to drive over from Beaumont, and many wore white collared shirts with “Friend of Yani” embroidered on the sleeve. The “friends” had plenty to cheer for as the defending champion powered her way to a two-stroke lead Saturday over Stacy Lewis with a 6-under 66.

“I need a big crowd,” Tseng said. “I need a big crowd here to make it exciting.”

The man behind the fan club was Oak Valley owner Huey M. Yu, a longtime supporter of Tseng, whose father bought a house at Oak Valley, where Yani’s sister still lives.

Yu, a Taiwanese accountant who graduated from Texas A&M and bought Oak Valley in 1997, began hosting promising Taiwanese players several years ago at the encouragement of friends.

Tseng was among the first to come over to play in the Callaway Junior World, and Yu, along with Ernie Huang, introduced her to the wide world of American golf.

“Oak Valley is considered a steppingstone,” said Yu, who for the past 10 years has helped provide Taiwanese juniors and professionals a place to practice, a place to stay, travel arrangements to tournaments and friendships with local Asian-Americans.

Now, with golf in the Olympics, he’s doing the same for mainland China. Yu is the training adviser for the Chinese National Team, and he has hosted the team at Oak Valley for the past two years.

“They’ve started,” Yu said of China’s burgeoning golf programs. “All the provincial teams are starting to form, right now as we speak.”

With golf returning to the Olympics for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games, the sport has been added to the Chinese National Games for 2013. Yu said China's provinces are “desperate” to build a team. Eventually, each province will have a team as well as each major city. A sport the government once viewed as a luxury is now being recognized for its medal potential. Yu said the Chinese will approach golf with the same ferociousness that they put into other sports (think gymnastics).

“They are starting from the top down,” Yu said.

Two months ago, China placed second in the Asian Games to South Korea in the women’s division, beating Taiwan by 11 strokes. That’s significant, given how much longer Taiwan has been dedicated to golf.

Yu said the Chinese are concentrating more on building the girls program because it’s “easier” to find success on the LPGA.

photo

Huey M. Yu

Over the years, he has put in more than $500,000 out of his own pocket to help fund Taiwanese players. He saw what Se Ri Pak did for South Korea, and thought he could help facilitate something similar for Taiwan, and eventually, China.

Yu said the process has become meaningful for him.

“Everyone knows there’s not money in golf courses right now,” he said. “If you charge an extra dollar (to play), they’ll go next door.”

So he added more coaches and bilingual assistants to his staff and started an academy for Asian players, giving them much-needed local knowledge. Yu said many of them want to work with the father-son team of Dave and Ron Stockton, who teach Tseng, Pressel and a host of other LPGA professionals. They have a strong relationship with Oak Valley.

“The fact that the Chinese are taking it that serious and they’re that organized is an indicator,” Ron Stockton said. “I’d like to see the Americans that organized.”

The club certainly has enough playing opportunities for Americans and Asians alike. This week, Oak Valley will host an AJGA preseason junior qualifier, and in July it will have the AJGA Junior Challenge.

On May 16, nine Chinese will play a U.S. Women’s Open qualifier at Oak Valley. Yu said if one advances, it will be huge news on the mainland.

Wintek, a high-tech company in Taiwan, spends $1.5 million a year on Taiwanese professionals, according to Yu. He sees Chinese companies doing something similar in the near future.

Between government and private funding, China likely will stop at nothing to usher in Olympic success.

“You can already see it,” he said. “They’re coming.”

As for Tseng, well, she’s already arrived.

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