Liu drawing up plans for the future
ORLANDO, Fla. – Jim Liu typically is the youngest member of his playing group – often by years – though it’s indiscernible by sight or score. In the past three years, the 13-year-old has filed away 16 International Junior Golf Tour victories – half from tournaments in which he played up to the older age division – and is this year’s IJGT Player of the Year. At a sturdy 5 feet, 5 inches, Liu consistently bangs drives 280 yards. When he’s rolling in putts, he can be pretty dangerous.
In tournament play, the bespectacled Liu speaks softly with opponents and carries himself in a noticeably calm manner despite playing against competitors as much as six years his senior. Playing up to the older age divisions has taught Liu to focus on every stroke.
“When I’m playing up, I just know I can’t afford any mistakes,” Liu said. “I need to save shots that I can save; I can’t just waste shots. It’s given me a lot of experience.”
Jim, ranked 80th in the Golfweek/Titleist Junior Rankings, took up the game at age 6 when his family moved into a golf community in Smithtown, N.Y.
“I said, ‘Jim, we need to play some golf, right, when we move there?’ ” Jim’s father Yiming remembers. “Then we started the same time.”
Before the move, Jim had dabbled in swimming and tennis, but after finding a swing coach, his game took off. Playing with his dad and older sister, who all took up the sport at the same time and learned from the same coach, Liu’s game quickly surpassed that of his dad and sister. Yiming credits Jim’s quick mastery of golf to his young age.
“The first year, I remember, he was pretty good,” Yiming said. “He was playing tournaments; he played nine tournaments and won eight. Then we started to realize, he’s probably enjoying his game.”
Two years later, a 9-year-old Liu, knee-high to a flagstick, shot his first tournament-round 59 at the Plantations Junior Golf Tour Championship at the 4,300-yard Lake Buena Vista Golf Course in Orlando.
For the past six years Liu has been traveling cross-country every few months to take lessons from John Anselmo in Long Beach, Calif. Anselmo coached an adolescent Tiger Woods. It’s a fitting similarity between Woods and Liu, who ritually wears victory red in his final tournament rounds. Woods is Liu’s favorite golfer, and he has found many qualities he likes about Anselmo also.
“My dad, he read a lot of books when I was young. He would try to narrow it down to a few coaches, and then he told me about the philosophy of different coaches. I just liked the way [Anselmo] taught,” Jim said. “He’s a very nice gentleman. He’s all about feel, and he doesn’t push me at all.”
Liu’s style is as laid-back as his teacher’s, as his stated goal is simply to continue to grow as a player. Liu doesn’t dwell on playing at the next level, and he certainly isn’t thinking about playing professionally.
“I want to become the best I can, and I’m pretty sure that will take care of itself,” he said.
Before the summer is over, Liu would like to cross off an AJGA victory from his to-do list. He said he’ll play in as many AJGA events as possible, plus the Rice Planters Amateur in Mount Pleasant, S.C., an event to which he received an exemption. Liu, a rising freshman, plans to stay on the junior circuit because his high school doesn’t have a golf team.
Liu, with a smile, is quick to say his favorite thing to practice is irons, and as a result he is a solid ball-striker. But Yiming has encouraged more time on the putting green, as putting is an admitted weakness of Jim’s.
“I ask him, ‘If you have nothing to do one day, tell me how do you spend your time?’ ’’ Yiming said. “He says he could hit 600 or 800 balls a day. I say you need to spend time on your putting. Now he’s spending more time on his putting.”
Because game-maintenance and competition require a lot of traveling, Liu’s other hobbies are things he can keep up on away from home, such as drawing and reading. Every once in a while he’ll combine his two passions, but don’t expect Liu to emerge as the next great player/course designer just yet.
“Sometimes I’ll sketch a design of a course, but it usually ends up in the trash because it’s just a hobby.”