By ANGELIN YEOH
WHEN Jean Chua played her first golf tournament at the age of 15, she didn’t do too well.
“I had a slow start and at the end of the tournament I got a score of about 160. Which was really bad,” says Chua in a phone interview from Georgia, United States.
But that’s understandable, as she had only started playing the game one year before that, taking it up after watching her older brother on the links. “I love to hang out with my older brother so when he went to play golf, I tagged along. Subsequently, I got hooked on it,” says the former gymnast who was born in Kuala Lumpur.
Now 25, Chua has been a professional golfer since 2009, and doing pretty well for herself and the country – in May this year, she was Malaysia’s top-ranked women’s player.
While she’s been playing in the United States to gain as much exposure as she can, she’s all set to play at home next week in the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia at the Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club. The prestigious tournament, which takes place from on Oct 11 to 14, will have Chua playing alongside some of the world’s top women golfers, like Yani Tseng from Taiwan and American Cristie Kerr. (For non-golfers, the LPGA stands for Ladies Professional Golf Association, the world body.)
Chua has been practising hard and has set her sights on playing for a more realistic achievement.
“Previously, I’ve always tried to place myself in the top five. Then my mentor changed my perspective and said I just need to focus on playing really good golf. I also need to work on my confidence, as this is my first full year as a professional golfer.”
In 2005, the then 18-year-old Chua won the Malaysian Ladies Closed Championship title, the Northern Malaysian Ladies Open and the MGA 100 Plus Asean Junior Golf Championship. For her achievement as a top amateur player, she was awarded a scholarship to further her studies in Wake Forest University in North Carolina in America where she was on the university’s women’s golf team.
Chua graduated in 2009 with a degree in Media and Advertising. She explains how she juggled golfing and studies: “Initially, I was enrolled in a different course; I had been really interested in computer and technology. But I struggled to keep up with the class because I was away a lot competing in golf tournaments.”
Then Chua had a session with her university counsellor and she was advised to switch courses. “I picked a more flexible course that didn’t require me to be in the classroom a lot. It was for the best, I guess. It helped me to focus on my game and, at the same time, not neglect my studies and maintain my goal to graduate.”
Chua adds that playing golf has given her the opportunity to travel and compete in other countries. “Travelling is both fun and complicated at the same time. I love that I get to meet new people and try different experiences. Then there’s the competition aspect of it where I have to study the location. Every golf course is different and I have to prepare myself for that.”
Apart from golfing, Chua says she really loves dancing: “If I’m not a golfer, I’d probably be a ballroom dancer,” she says with a laugh.