Liu’s 10-year dream comes true
Leader's passion for golf whetted by playing with Ochoa, Tseng in 2009
Chinese golfer Liu Yu was just 13 when she first played at the 2009 HSBC Women's Champions pro-am alongside former world No. 1s Lorena Ochoa and Tseng Ya-ni in Singapore as part of the HSBC Junior Programme.
Then, she was in awe of them. Now, at least for a day, people were looking up at her on the leaderboard.
Yesterday, the 23-year-old from Beijing found herself as the joint leader of the US$1.5 million (S$2m) HSBC Women's World Championship, alongside current No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn, Frenchwoman Celine Boutier, American Amy Olson and Australian Minjee Lee.
Defending champion Michelle Wie, 29, withdrew with a wrist injury after 14 holes.
After shooting a four-under 68 in the first round at Sentosa Golf Club's New Tanjong Course, Liu quipped: "Dreams do come true, but it's 10 years... took pretty long."
The affable Liu then shared how that moment in 2009 changed her life.
Having picked up golf as a nine-year-old because her parents played it, Liu was not interested in becoming a professional athlete because "it was tiring, I hated waking up early and I didn't like travelling".
But rubbing shoulders with Ochoa and Tseng whetted her appetite for elite golf, and she wanted more of that experience.
So she started learning English because she wanted to play college golf in America, and eventually won the 2013-14 national championship with Duke University.
Liu turned pro in 2015 and played on the Symetra Tour until 2017, when she won the Tullymore Classic and finished fifth on the money list to earn LPGA membership for 2018.
As a rookie, she made 21 cuts in 27 events, including three top-10 finishes and ending up seventh at the Women's British Open.
She looks up to former No. 1 Feng Shanshan, who was one behind the lead with six others, for her "unparalleled mental strength".
But Liu also displayed her own mental fortitude as she rebounded from bogeys on the first and 17th holes to make six birdies, the most by any player yesterday.
She will need to keep her focus for the rest of the week, with Ariya serving notice of her intention to win in an LPGA Tour event in Asia for the first time with a flawless 68.
"I would certainly like to add a win in Asia at some point soon. I don't know yet if I can or not this week, but I wish I can," said the 23-year-old Thai. She was the only golfer in the leading pack to avoid a bogey in the first round.
"Today, I played pretty good. I hit pretty good tee-shots and my irons were good,"Ariya said.
"The greens were pretty fast and really tough because it's firm. It's so tough to hit it close to the pin... I missed quite a lot of putts, but I also made a few."
Meanwhile, Singaporean Amanda Tan had a rough start as she carded an 11-over 83 to prop up the leaderboard of 60 players who completed the round.
Also, in addition to Wie's withdrawal, South Koreans Amy Yang and Kim Sei Young also pulled out because of flu and a back injury respectively.