SEA ISLAND, Ga. – Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world in terms of area, but it has just eight golf courses.
So how does a chess player from Almaty, Kazakhstan, become a Division-I talent on the golf course and earn a scholarship to play at Stanford?
“I was extremely lucky,” said 18-year-old Daulet Tuleubayev, who at No. 624 is the only player from Kazakhstan ranked in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He is also No. 21 in the Rolex AJGA Rankings.
Golf, however, was not Tuleubayev’s first love. He began playing chess competitively at age 4 and later was ranked third nationally in his age division. He traveled to mostly local matches, but occasionally would compete in international tournaments.
But when Tuleubayev was 8 years old, his dad influenced him to pick up another sport. And he had a knack for it, too. One day Tuleubayev was flipping through a golf magazine his dad had bought and saw how much Phil Mickelson had earned by winning a golf tournament.
“I was amazed at how successful golfers could be,” Tuleubayev said, “and they only have to work four days.”
A year later, Tuleubayev spent his first summer in the U.S. playing golf. He started taking lessons from Butch Harmon. Then he transitioned to St. Simons Island, Ga., to start practicing at Sea Island and work with instructor Todd Anderson. When he was back home in Almaty, he played on his country’s two best courses, Nurtau Golf Club and Zhailjau Golf Resort. (The two courses play host to a European Challenge Tour event, which Tuleubayev has played twice; he also competed in the European Tour’s M2M Russian Open in 2015.)
But Tuleubayev, a brilliant kid, needed more. When he was 15 years old, he moved to Exeter, N.H., to attend Phillips Exeter Academy, a prestigious private boarding school.
“It was entirely related to academics,” Tuleubayev said. “I didn’t really consider golf at the time.”
Soon, though, his game started to suffer. He wouldn’t get out of class during the week until just before sunset, leaving little time for golf. His weekends were spent mostly doing schoolwork.
After two years, he and his mother, Svetlana, moved across the country in August 2016 in search of a better balance. They found it at the Harker School in San Jose, Calif.
But by that next February, Tuleubayev’s golf game was “pretty much thrown.” He returned to Harmon for a three-day school in Las Vegas and began a drastic swing change. He struggled for the next couple of months, but by April his new swing took hold and Tuleubayev unlocked a game he had never seen before.
He shot 9-under 62 in the final round of the Alameda Commuters. Then in July he shot 10-under 62 to win his U.S. Amateur qualifier before finishing fourth at the Junior PGA Championship. He also notched three top-12 finishes in AJGA invitational events last year.
“I showed to myself that I could really go under par,” Tuleubayev said. “… I saw that I could compete with the guys who can consistently finish in the top 10.”
That play caught the eye of Stanford head coach Conrad Ray, who offered Tuleubayev a scholarship last August. Two months later, he officially signed with the Cardinal.
“I give the family credit,” Ray said. “To make that move (from Kazakhstan) was a big leap of faith, but it’s worked out great.”
Tuleubayev hopes to major in computer science at Stanford, which he calls, “the land of opportunities.” Ray feels like Tuleubayev has quite the opportunity on the golf course, calling him a “sleeper.”
“I think he’s got huge upside in this game,” Ray said. “He’s big and strong and creates a lot of speed. I like his work ethic. … I feel like there are a lot of characteristics there that will lend themselves to Daulet having a good college career.”
Tuleubayev’s chess background certainly helps, as well.
“Doing chess and trying to think ahead, anticipating, always trying to stay three moves ahead; it’s very much like managing a golf course,” Tuleubayev said. “It has helped me. Being younger, I still want to be aggressive and go for pins, but as I’ve matured I’ve realized more and more that golf is more like chess and you do have to map your way around the course better.” Gwk