KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Under sweltering heat, Butsakom Moonfong gripped her golf club firmly and practiced her swing before focusing on the ball. Adjusting her position, the 10-year-old hit the ball close to the hole, getting a thumbs-up from her father – who is also her caddie.
Butsakom emerged champion in her age group in the Kids Golf World Championship in Malaysia on Dec. 4-6, much to the delight of her father. She has been playing competitive golf since she was 5 years old, and by 6 she had her eyes set on the world stage.
“I want to be a world professional player. I want to make lots of money,” the softly spoken Thai girl said during a lunch break earlier this week, escorted by her doting parents.
Golf is no longer just an adult’s game in Asia. It is fast becoming child’s play as many parents nurture their kids from increasingly young ages, giving them a head start on a path to a professional career.
Asia’s rising status in the sport, and the inclusion of golf in the 2016 Olympics have sparked interest in the region.
Asian women are particularly dominant, sweeping all four major championships this year for the first time in LPGA history. That makes it nine Asian triumphs in the past 12 majors, while the world rankings, headed by Taiwanese star Yani Tseng, are dominated by Koreans and Japanese. Sixty of the world’s top 100 women golfers are from Asia.
That may soon be mirrored in the men’s game, too. Recently, Chinese schoolboy Guan Tianlang created golfing history by qualifying for the US Masters in April at the age of just 14. Tianlang, from the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, started playing at age 4 and won the world junior title by 11 shots last year in San Diego.
The Kids Golf World Championship, held for the first time in Asia, attracted 402 participants aged between 6 and 18. It is an offshoot of the U.S. Kids Golf Foundation, the largest and among the most prestigious event in the world for junior golfers. It also tabulates points toward the world amateur ranking.
In the Philippines, junior golf tournaments are held almost weekly, providing an avenue for young golfers to brush up on their skills.
In Singapore, some schools have begun to offer golf as part of the curriculum. In Malaysia, top bank Maybank recently set up a junior golf academy to nurture young talent for the Olympics and to try and dispel the notion that golf is an elitist game.
Golf is also slowly being embraced in Myanmar, as it emerges from military rule toward more democracy.