Sat, Nov 29, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Playing hardball at a young age

Fourteen-year-old Lo Shih-kai is one of the country's best sporting prospects, but is finding success comes at a price

By Jules Quartly  /  STAFF REPORTER

Lo Shih-kai, left, discusses his next shot at the Acer Taiwan Open last weekend, at the Sunrise Golf and Country Club in Taoyuan County.

PHOTO: JULES QUARTLY, TAIPEI TIMES

It's not easy being the country's top junior golfer, as 14-year-old Lo Shih-kai (羅士凱) is finding out. Added to the expectations of future success and financial rewards that have been placed on his shoulders are the politics of the local game.

Last year was the high point so far of Lo's nascent career, when he became the youngest player to compete in a European PGA Tour event at the Hong Kong Open. He also cleaned up at various domestic junior events -- confirming his number one status -- and last week made the cut going into the final two days of play at the Acer Taiwan Open, at the Sunrise Golf and Country Club in Yangmei, Taoyuan County.

He is being groomed by the world's foremost sporting talent agents, International Management Group (IMG), and has the full support of his family, who hope that he will be able to develop his game further at the internationally renowned David Leadbetter Golf Academy in the US.

It all looks so promising, but some clouds have gathered over the youngster's future.

Though Lo played exceptionally well at the Taiwan Open to make the cut and compete not only with the country's best golfers, but also with many stars from the Asian, European and US tours, he ran into trouble on the final day when he marked his card on the par-5 sixth hole as a seven rather than a nine. He was immediately disqualified and will now have to cope with the doubts that may have arisen over his sportsmanship and possibly the barbs from rivals who will take advantage of the situation.

Of longer-term significance, however, is the custody battle that is taking shape over control of his career. On the one side is Lo and his family. Their plans focus on paying for tuition abroad and developing his game with a view to turning professional in three or four years. On the other side is Taiwan's golfing association (GAROC) and the powerful forces that control the country's junior golf program and would wish Lo to stay as an amateur until after the Asian Games in 2006.

There are fears that if Lo does go to the Leadbetter academy in the US, or does not sign up with GAROC, then he will not be able to play in local or national tournaments.

"I do hope that this doesn't affect the development of golfers who have their own thoughts on how to develop. There should be an even playing field, so that any junior golfer who is Taiwanese and good enough, is allowed to play in these type of competitions," said John Cappo, a senior IMG management executive.

"If you want to be an international player you have to be an international person. That's why a lot of local players have problems on tour: they don't travel well, they don't like the food, they sit in their room and cook their rice ... it doesn't help if you want to be at the top of the game," Cappo said by phone from Beijing.

In the meantime, Lo will carry on trying to realize his dream of "being a great professional like Gary Player," who he met at last year's Taiwan Open.

He lives in Luotung, Ilan County, and lives with his parents and three older sisters. Most mornings he gets up at 7am to do a light workout and practice golf before going to school. When classes finish he will spend another five to six hours practicing at the local course, or on a range.

He was introduced to golf by his father -- a former amateur US football player and bus driver -- and started playing seriously at seven. At nine he was advised to try out in competitions being held in Taipei and quickly made a winning impression. Presently, he is around 180cm tall and has broad shoulders for a young guy. He already drives the ball further than many other professionals on the Asian tour and has a calm, considered approach to interviews and his game, which should stand him in good stead.

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