SINGAPORE – The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Shannon Tan since she became the first Singaporean golfer to qualify for the Ladies European Tour (LET) in December.
After she decided to turn professional, the 19-year-old had to return to Texas Tech University in the United States, where she was on a sports scholarship, to pack her belongings and withdraw from the school.
She then headed to Australia for two tournaments, her first in the play-for-pay ranks, and performed creditably. She was tied-second at the Jan 17-21 Webex Players Series’ Murray River and eighth at the Feb 1-4 Vic Open, earning just over A$36,000 (S$31,473).
Next is the Feb 8-11 Magical Kenya Ladies Open, her debut on the LET. There are no nerves, she said, as she prepares for the next step in her career. She noted: “I plan to just try and do my best, get that experience and exposure and get used to travelling to different countries and stuff like that.”
The two events in Australia were eye-opening ones. She added: “There were quite a lot of spectators and TV cameras, there was a camera at every tee box, every fairway and every green. I kind of liked it, I like the whole set-up and how everything was. It was a good experience.”
Professional golf is not all glamour, though. It is far more competitive than the amateur circuit, plus there are mundane tasks like sorting out the logistics of flights and necessary visas to get to various tournaments around the world.
Tan, whose off-season can consist of 1½ hours hitting balls, another 1½ hours chipping and an hour putting each day, acknowledges that sacrifices have to be made. Pulling out of Texas Tech however, was not an easy decision, she said.
“College golf was a great environment, everything seemed pretty good in Texas. That was one of the considerations I had, the other part was academics but I figured I can always go back and continue my degree,” she noted.
“You can defer your studies but you can’t defer golf, so that was part of my decision-making. I’ll also be leaving my team after 1½ years, that was another of the bigger considerations.”
Tan was five when her father introduced her to golf and it was not long before she knew she wanted to make it her career. She spent hours watching tournaments on TV and grew up admiring Americans Paula Creamer and Stacy Lewis.
Tan would rush to finish her homework after school so she could head to the golf course. By the time she was eight, she was playing nine holes six times a week.
Such was her passion that she left Singapore after completing her Secondary 1 studies and moved to Australia, where the environment was more conducive for her to train and compete.
Even now, she tries to play 18 holes five times a week, taking one day off across two weeks. As Tan puts it: “If I don’t play golf, I feel very awkward.”
She is also motivated by a desire to keep improving. “I like playing golf to start with, I’m pretty passionate about playing golf and it drives me to always want to play,” she said. “I also like to work on things, improve and figure out the next one per cent that I can improve on my game.”
Her ultimate goal is to play on the US-based LPGA Tour where all the top players compete on. The LET, which has 31 events across 20 countries this season that offers a total prize pool of more than €34 million (S$50 million), offers an excellent first step.
Despite the increased expectations, Tan is embracing the challenge. She said: “There definitely is pressure, but it’s a good type of pressure because I want to do well so it pushes and drives me to do well.”