Jim Liu returns to amateur golf, though focus remains on career in finance

Jim Liu returns to amateur golf, though focus remains on career in finance

Amateur

Jim Liu returns to amateur golf, though focus remains on career in finance

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the January 2018 print issue of Golfweek Magazine.

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It’s been more than seven years since Jim Liu became the youngest champion in U.S. Junior Amateur history, defeating Justin Thomas in the 2010 final at Egypt Valley Country Club, less than a month before his 15th birthday.

Reminders of that special week are still present at Liu’s family home in Smithtown, N.Y. Though Liu spends most of his time across country attending Stanford University, Liu’s trophies, medals, equipment and other mementos from junior golf remain in a room back home, sitting where they’ve been for years.

Not much has changed, yet so much has.

“That stuff, it hasn’t really been touched,” Liu said. “I wonder when I’ll move it all or pack it up.”

For Liu, now 22, those items still trigger fond memories. But golf is no longer his top priority. He went more than two years without playing a tournament until recently deciding, on a whim, to play the Dixie Amateur last month. Those dreams he once had of playing on the PGA Tour? Liu, who will graduate in April with a degree in economics, has shelved his pro golf aspirations in favor of beginning a career in finance at Bank of America Merrill Lynch next summer in New York City.

“It’s been a while since I really gave that path serious consideration,” Liu said. “Right now, I’m going to be focusing on my career going forward.”

Jim Liu is pictured after winning the 2010 U.S. Junior Amateur.

After winning the U.S. Junior, Liu went on to have a decorated junior career. He qualified for 11 USGA championships, including five U.S. Juniors. (He won U.S. Junior stroke-play medals in consecutive years in 2012 and ’13, something only Tiger Woods and Willie Wood have done.) He was a four-time AJGA Rolex Junior All-American, played on two winning Junior Ryder Cup teams and was invited to the Walker Cup practice session in 2012, all rare feats for a junior golfer.

But after signing with Stanford as the top-ranked junior in the Class of 2013, Liu played just one full season for the Cardinal. As a junior golfer, Liu loved the game and enjoyed being out on the golf course, but when he got to college, the game started to wear on him – demanding practice and workout schedules, lofty expectations, a minor back injury.

Halfway through his sophomore season, Liu quit the team and took a break from school in hopes that he could rediscover himself as a golfer.

“His game was at a stage where he was dealing with injuries and trying to find the love of the game again,” Stanford head coach Conrad Ray said.

Liu spent the first handful of months of 2015 filling up his passport, teeing it up in amateur events in the U.S., Australia, Portugal, Spain and England. But golf remained a grind. After shooting 76-79 and missing the cut at the Lytham Trophy that May, Liu completely lost enjoyment in the game. When he returned home, he put the clubs away for good.

“I didn’t have a desire or urge to play for a little while,” Liu said. “… It was probably a good six or seven months before I even touched a club again.”

Liu returned to Stanford after two quarters with a shift in focus. He joined a fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, where he rushed alongside football players Christian McCaffrey and Solomon Thomas, who are both now in the NFL. He also got involved with the Stanford Solar Car Project, a student group that designs, builds and races a solar-powered car across the Australian Outback. The project has one of the largest budgets among student groups at Stanford, and this past year Liu served as chief financial officer, helping with fundraising and marketing.

“He got the absolute most out of his Stanford experience … and I applaud him for that,” said former teammate Maverick McNealy.

Jim Liu is pictured during the 2015 Jones Cup Invitational at Ocean Forest Golf Club.

As for golf, Liu eventually dug out the clubs, but mostly only for late-afternoon, nine-hole rounds after class at Stanford Golf Course. About a year ago, Liu went out for one such round with McNealy and another former teammate, Viraat Badhwar, on a windy, drizzly day at Stanford. McNealy, who can still remember the sound and ball flight from Liu’s junior days (McNealy was a quarterfinalist at the 2012 U.S. Junior in which Liu finished as runner-up), got flashbacks.

“Jim gets up (on the first tee) after not hitting a golf ball for at least three months and stripes one right down the middle of the fairway,” McNealy said. “Viraat and I looked at each other and said, ‘It looks like a year and a half ago.’”

All three shot 1 over that day. But Liu admits “there were plenty of high rounds” as he failed to crack double-digits in rounds played in each of the past two years.

That could change in 2018. Toward the end of his summer internship with Bank of America last year, Liu caught the golf bug again. He teed it up for the company in the Safeway Open pro-am – and his team won. That led to him signing up for the Dixie, and although Liu’s return to competition didn’t go as well – Liu shot 78-79 to miss the cut – Liu didn’t fret over the result. He entered the event with no expectations, and even skipped a practice round to go to the beach. Golf was fun again.

“As time has passed, I’m definitely starting to get the bug again,” Liu said, “and hopefully that goes back to the original reason of why I fell in love with the game in the first place.”

Said McNealy: “He’s such a fantastic player and it’s really cool when you see a guy playing golf for the right reasons again.”

Liu loves the game once more, but his life doesn’t depend on it. Asked where he sees himself five years from now, Liu said likely furthering his career in finance or going to business school – “and hopefully playing some amateur golf,” he added. (Future Walker Cup player or U.S. Mid-Amateur champion, anyone?)

Maybe those old trophies will get moved after all … to make room for more. Gwk

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