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Asian children get head start on golf careers

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Asian children get head start on golf careers

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) 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 five years old, and by six 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 four 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 six 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.

Among those competing was six-year-old Filipino Lucas Hodreal, who is a big fan of Woods and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy. Hodreal was among the youngest participants in the Malaysian championship. He was only two years old when his father put a golf club in his hand.

``I like golf because I get soft drinks and get to play iPod in the car,'' said the pint-sized boy, who was disappointed with his game in Malaysia because he didn't land any double eagles.

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.

Yin May Tho, 17, came from a non-golfing family and fell in love with the game at age 11. She has participated in 45 tournaments since then and aims to make golf a career. She won in her age group in the Kids Golf World Championship.

``This is a gentleman's game and I can manage it myself. It's a mental game,'' she said, citing Yani Tseng and South Korea's Na Yeon Choi as her idols. She said she hopes to enter a golf academy in Australia next year to better her game.

She was among an entourage of a dozen Myanmar teenagers competing in the Malaysian championship.

Her coach Chan Han said interest has bloomed in recent years with 70-80 budding junior golfers in Myanmar under the country's golf association. As Myanmar opens its doors further to the world, Chan said he hopes there will be more incentives and further investments to build world standard golf courses to make the sport more accessible.

``In Asia, many people see golf as an elitist game but the rise of Asian stars in the game is slowly changing that perception. Green fees are still cheap in Myanmar and there are many talents here in Asia,'' Chan said.

For Thailand's Butsakom, her parents are pushing her and doing all they can for their only child to support her dream.

They live in Mae Hong Son, a hilly province in northern Thailand where her father owns a driving range. Every month, they take a five-hour drive to the nearest golf course in Chiang Mai so that Moonfong can practice her game. Her future goal is clear: become a professional at age 16.

Her mother, a nurse, said they plan to uproot the family to Chiang Mai in the next two years so that Butsakom can practice her game daily.

Will she be the next Asian rising star?

``Yes, I think so,'' her mother said, with a laugh.

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Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

Recent numbers indicate just how hard it could be for Antonio Gandy-Golden to help as a rookie

There were already some decent expectations placed on Antonio Gandy-Golden for 2020 — and then Kelvin Harmon went down. Now, the Day 3 selection is being labeled as someone who needs to really contribute to the Washington Football Team.

But is that too much to ask for a rookie who went on Saturday in the draft? Recent numbers indicate that answer may be yes.

From 2015 to 2019, 25 wide receivers were chosen in the fourth round, which is where Washington nabbed Gandy-Golden a few months ago. Here are some takeaways from looking back on how all of those guys performed in their first professional seasons:

  • Only one target topped 50 catches and 600 yards, and coincidentally enough, it was Jamison Crowder. Crowder caught 59 passes for 604 yards and two scores as a rookie for the Burgundy and Gold in 2015. The only other guy who came close to either of those marks was Antonio Callaway, who had 43 grabs for 586 yards and five touchdowns for Cleveland in 2018. Those are easily the two best performances by a fourth-round rookie wideout since 2015, so keep that in mind when discussing Gandy-Golden.
  • Out of that group of 25, 15 suited up for double-digit games for their teams during their first taste of the league. The average stat line for those 15 rookies was 17 receptions for 182 yards and one touchdown in about 14 contests. That's meager. 
  • Just nine out of the 25 recorded a touchdown catch as a rookie, and only four (Crowder, Callaway, DaeSean Hamilton and Malcom Mitchell) visited the end zone multiple times.

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So, judging solely off of that data, it would appear that Washington shouldn't be prepared to lean heavily Gandy-Golden. And once you combine that history with other factors, such as the huge transition he's about to make from Libery to the NFL and the very limited offseason he's had thus far, then the outlook for Gandy-Golden becomes even dimmer.

There is a super simple counter argument, however, at least when it comes to comparing him to his past fourth-round peers, and it has to do with his potential playing time.

While the 22-year-old has to fight through a pandemic, something none of the above rookies can relate to and something that could be detrimental to his early career, he also may be in line for a massive share of snaps right away. Most players who go off the board where Gandy-Golden did are usually worried about simply making the team; he, on the other hand, very well could be a starter across from Terry McLaurin in Week 1.

That alone means Gandy-Golden could end up having enough involvement in the offense to come up with a Crowder-like, impactful debut. In 2019, McLaurin far surpassed other third-round rookie receivers due largely to the amount of opportunity he got with Washington (his ridiculous talent was a bonus of course, too). Gandy-Golden is tracking on a similar path. 

A fairly general rule for any franchise is that it's not exactly prudent to need a Day 3 pass catcher to immediately act as one of your primary weapons. Stats from 2015 to 2019 seem to back up that general rule.

Every rule has an exception here or there, though. Maybe Gandy-Golden, with his outstanding physical traits and possibly featured role in 2020, will be that next exception and make all this math and comparing a totally moot issue. 

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Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Bradley Beal thinks Rui Hachimura will be a small forward long-term

Whether it actually matters is debatable, but what position Rui Hachimura best profiles for long-term has been a point of contention among fans and media members ever since he was drafted by the Wizards ninth overall last summer. He is what not long ago would be described as a 'tweener,' or somewhat of a cross between a small forward and a power forward.

Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal has put some thought into it and has now weighed in. He thinks Hachimura will be a small forward.

"Honestly, I think Rui is going to end up being a three. When his career is over with, he's going to end up playing the three," Beal explained during Sunday's Wizards-Nets broadcast on NBC Sports Washington.

"I don't know what that's going to look like next year or what we're going to jump to, but you can see spurts of it. You can see he can handle the ball, he's comfortable with handling the ball. Obviously, we can improve that and make that better. He shoots the three comfortably."

That last point could probably be picked apart a bit and it does hold some importance in the argument. If Hachimura is indeed going to be a small forward, he will need to add some perimeter skills to his game.

Three-point shooting would be included in there and so far there certainly seems to be room for improvement. This season, he is shooting just 27 percent from three on 1.7 attempts per game. 

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In the three games the Wizards have played in Orlando, Hachimura is 0-for-1 from long range. He didn't attempt any threes at all in their first two games of the restart.

The reason why it is an interesting debate is Hachimura doesn't fit the traditional norms for either the three or four position. And that could be a good thing, as former teammate C.J. Miles pointed out in November. When you don't match up perfectly with opponents in any specific position, sometimes that means you are a mismatch for anyone who is guarding you.

Beal himself went on to rave about Hachimura's versatility.

"He's super athletic, so he can use his size to post up. So, the versatility is there. It's just a matter of what we want to mold him into," Beal said. "I think the sky's the limit. He has the ability, he has the work ethic, so I'm definitely excited to see."

RELATED: NBA PLAYERS BRING UP KAWHI COMPARISONS DESPITE RUI'S ROUGH GAME

Hachimura not having a true position could be an advantage. What the Wizards will need to determine, however, is how to complement his skillset with other players as they continue to build their roster. 

Whether Hachimura is a three, a four or even a small-ball five, the best way to maximize his strengths will be to fill in the gaps around him. Putting a rim protector alongside him, for instance, would allow him to roam and switch on defense. Having teammates who space the floor will create openings in the midrange, where he is very effective scoring the ball.

Those involve more important questions than what position Hachimura will ultimately be defined by. But it's still a fun debate to have and now even Beal has been drawn into it.

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