PLYMOUTH, Mass. – Here amid the scrub pines and sandy soil where Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore worked their magic to create the Old Sandwich Golf Club, the breath of fresh air you felt on yet another gloriously warm summer day was courtesy of the nearby Atlantic.
Then again, it could have been thanks to youngsters named Seiji Liu and Kelly Shon.
In a sports world where perspective is fast becoming a rare commodity, Liu and Shon provide buckets of it. Standing on a sparkling stage such as Old Sandwich in a prestigious production called the AJGA Canon Cup, Liu and Shon are enveloped by the very best junior golf has to offer, yet they haven’t forgotten that a bigger picture takes precedence.
Being a professional golfer might be the dream that is shared by all at this level, but Liu and Shon approach this intersection with great care.
“I never want to take away from the dream, but the facts of the reality don’t lie,” Liu said. “(Pro golf) is a tough road. That’s why I’ve always felt it’s nice to have a strong academics background.”
Shon feels similarly.
“In order to have fun, I don’t want to force myself to play golf to make a living,” she said. “I know there has to be a Plan B.”
Let the record show each of them is throwing great humility into the mix. “Strong academics” and a “Plan B” are vast understatements, for Liu is headed to Harvard, Shon to Princeton, and trust us on this point: Those schools based their letters of acceptance not on how the kids handle titanium and graphite, but rather physics and economics.
The Canon Cup is a gathering of the best and the brightest on the AJGA front, arguably its most popular tournament. That’s because after a series of highly competitive individual tournaments that test a player’s ability to deal with pressure, this all-star, match-play, team event that pits 20 kids from the West against 20 from the East is widely cheered.
“It’s so unique,” Liu said. “It builds friendships and creates memories.”
Liu, playing for the West, was on the losing end of a morning four-ball match against Justin Thomas and Logan Harrell, while Shon, an East girl, was part of a winning effort in the four-ball, then in the afternoon foursomes. Fun stuff for both of them and a nice way to ease their way into a chapter that will be demanding, yet highly anticipated.
“Words can’t explain how excited I am,” Shon said.
Words can, however, put a spin on all of this that brings the picture into focus. Perhaps five or six years ago, the AJGA was encouraged to re-work its mission statement so that people understood the idea of the organization.
“That’s when we wrote it down,” AJGA CFO Jason Miller said. “That the AJGA ‘is dedicated to the overall growth and development of young men and women who aspire to earn college golf scholarships through competitive junior golf.’ ”
No question, the serious Division I schools flock to AJGA participants, but it’s noteworthy that Harvard and Princeton are the programs of choice for at least two of these all-stars. Consider it proof that the AJGA is fulfilling its mission statement and that there surely are kids out there who aren’t afraid to apply an admirable work ethic to secure balance in their lives.
Liu, like Shon, said academics have always come first, but not to a point where golf was an afterthought.
“They blend (together) so well. I’ll stay up really late at night to get my (school) work done so that I can get a good day of practice. I don’t sacrifice quality,” Liu said.
Born to parents Stephen and Machi, who are natives of Taiwan, Seiji has lived his entire life in Beverly Hills, Calif., and recently graduated from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. But he embraces his ancestry’s culture, to the point where he will call it a junior career at the Canon Cup and spend the bulk of what remains of the summer in Taiwan.
“I’ll be with my family, take classes at a university, develop my language skills,” said Liu, who has three generations of doctors on his father’s side and one on his mother’s. “I will grow as a person.”
If he were headed to one of the nation’s golf powers, Liu would have been seen in action perhaps a half-dozen times by his future coach. But Harvard is different. It’s . . . well, it’s Harvard, so there was head golf coach Jim Burke wandering the spectacular Old Sandwich setting to see his newest team member in action for the first time.
An assistant pro at Leo J. Martin, one of Greater Boston’s most played municipal golf courses, Burke chuckles when asked about his recruiting trips. “Maybe four to six local tournaments,” he said. Academics is paramount at Harvard, which is why Burke feels blessed to have that rare combination in Liu – a quality recruit who understands what he has in Harvard and appreciates that there’s golf that can be played in the meantime.
In fact, Liu is truly up on Harvard golf, because he knows who the greatest golfer is in school history.
“Bobby Jones,” he said with a smile.
Indeed, while Jones only served as team manager during his graduate days at the famed university, no one would argue that it’s not the coolest note attached to a golf program that will never be confused with Florida or Oklahoma State.
“But,” insisted Burke, “Ivy League golf has gotten better the last three years. We’re not as deep as the national powers, but we’ve got good players.”
Two of whom are on display here at Old Sandwich. One is carrying the East red, the other West blue, and both of them harbor dreams of playing among PGA Tour and LPGA colleagues.
“What’s not to like about playing golf and getting paid to do it?” asked Shon, who moved with her parents, Won Young and Kae, from Korea to Port Washington, N.Y., 10 years ago, when she was 8.
Shakes of the head all around, because she is right. But in the very next breath she is even more right and offers comfort to those who wrongly think these kids are consumed with chasing a dead-end dream.
“Princeton, long-range, is going to benefit me,” she said. “I’m a firm believer that you get out of life what you put into it.”
In other words, some kids aren’t afraid to mix their academics and golf.
Results from Day 1 at the Canon Cup, played July 27 at Old Sandwich Golf Club in Plymouth, Mass.
Day 1: West 8, East 7
Tuesday Afternoon Mixed Foursome: West, 3, East 2
Stephen Behr Jr.-Kelly Shon (E) def. Kramer Hickok-Rachel Morris, 3 and 2
Andrew Levitt-Emily Collins def. Nicholas Reach-Karen Chung, 1 up
Logan Harrell-A.J. Newell (E) def. Jeff Wibawa-Tiffany Lim, 4 and 3
Michael Kim-Kristen Park def. J.D. Tomlinson-Ashlan Ramsey, 4 and 3
Jay Hwang-Kyung Kim def. Franco Castro-Suzie Lee, 4 and 3
Tuesday Morning Four-Ball: East 5, West 5
Emma Talley-Victoria Tanco (E) def. Emily Tubert-Tiffany Lim, 2 and 1
Nicholas Reach-Stephen Behr Jr. (E) def. Kramer Hickok-Tanner Kesterson, 3 and 1
Kelly Shon-Karen Chung (E) def. Rachel Morris-Erynne Lee, 2 and 1
Jay Hwang-Michael Kim def. Andrew Knox-J.D. Tomlinson, 3 and 2
Casey Grice-Emily Collins def. Ginger Howard-A.J. Newell, 1 up
Justin Thomas-Logan Harrell (E) def. Seiji Liu-Andrew Levitt, 4 and 3
Kristen Park-Kyung Kim def. Ashlan Ramsey-Shannon Aubert, 1 up
A.J. McInerney-Preston Valder def. Franco Castro-Oliver Schniederjans, 3 and 1
Ani Gulugian-Lindsay Weaver def. Suzie Lee-McKenzie Talbert, 1 up
Patrick Rodgers-Drew Czuchry (E) def. Jeff Wibawa-Will Zalatoris, 7 and 6