Capitals

Asian children get head start on golf careers

201212072222805503766-p2.jpeg

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.

Quick Links

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

usatsi_10360906.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Interested teams have begun reaching out to John Carlson

Free agency does not start until July 1, but John Carlson's agent is already taking calls from other interested teams.

The interview period began at 12 a.m. on Sunday morning, which means teams are now able to reach out to any potential free agents, but no contracts can be signed until July 1. While Brian MacLellan said Friday that a new deal with Carlson to keep him in Washington was "really close," Carlson's agent, Rick Curran, has made it clear there was no deal in place yet as of Sunday.

So does this mean Carlson now has one foot out the door?

Not necessarily.

At this point in the negotiation, Carlson has a major advantage and that advantage is time. Sunday's interview period is just another way to hold the Caps' feet to the fire. The closer we get to July 1, the more pressure the team is under to get a deal done.

But the Caps still have some leverage too.

“I love it here and all that,” Carlson said during on breakdown day. “I want to stay here, but there's more to it than that.”

By rule, as his current team, the Caps are the only team that can offer Carlson an eight-year deal.

So Carlson may have turned up the heat a few degrees on the Caps, but it's not time for fans to worry just yet.

MORE CAPITALS NEWS:

Quick Links

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

Nationals look to avoid sweep against Phillies on Sunday night

WASHINGTON -- Having already won their first series at Nationals Park since April 2016, the Philadelphia Phillies will go for the sweep of Washington on Sunday night.

Phillies right-hander Nick Pivetta (4-6, 4.08 ERA) faces Nationals right-hander Jefry Rodriguez (0-0, 4.66).

Pivetta was drafted by the Nationals in 2013 and went to the Phillies in 2015 as part of the Jonathan Papelbon trade.

After struggling for three straight starts -- giving up 13 runs in 14 innings -- Pivetta allowed two runs and four hits in 7 1/3 innings of a no-decision against the St. Louis Cardinals last time out, striking out a career-high 13 batters.

"That's some of the best stuff I've seen him have all year," catcher Andrew Knapp told mlb.com. "The curveball was electric."

Pivetta got 11 swings and misses with the curveball.

"It was nice to have it back," Pivetta told mlb.com. "It all started with my delivery. I was staying up through it, not trying to rush too much and it worked out."

It his first start -- and second big-league appearance -- the 24-year-old Rodriguez picked up a win against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday. He allowed five runs, four hits and three walks in five innings.

Rodriguez and Satuday's losing pitcher, Erick Fedde, are filling in for injured starters Stephen Strasburg and Jeremy Hellickson.

The Phillies have outscored the Nationals 17-5 in the fist two games of the series. On Saturday, Maikel Franco had four hits and Carlos Santana homered to back Aaron Nola in a 5-3 victory.

"That was just a tremendous all-around baseball game," Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Franco. "It's so interesting how we've been looking for him to be not just a hitter but a defender and a baserunner and an all-around athlete."

Franco drove in a run and scored twice, including the go-ahead run when he scored just ahead of the tag on Jesmuel Valentin's sacrifice fly.

The Phillies, who have won six of seven, pounded out double-digit hits for the second day in a row in Washington.

"They have a lot of patient hitters," Fedde said of the Phillies. "I think that's what makes it tough. Guys aren't swinging at bunch of junk, so you have to attack them."

The Phillies have now won four straight series for the first time since May 2016 and are 2-0 in what will be a stretch of 10 games against the Nationals and the New York Yankees.

Anthony Rendon homered and Daniel Murphy had a two-run single for Washington, which has lost three of four while scoring nine runs.

"Look, I've got all the confidence in the world we're going to start hitting," Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. "We'll start scoring some runs. Right now, the bullpen is a little beat up. We've got to get them going again."

Rendon is doing his part. In his las 15 games, he is batting .382 with seven doubles, two homers and 12 RBIs.

Hellickson (right groin strain) will make a rehab start Sunday for Class A Potomac and then is expected to rejoin the Nationals' rotation.

Hernandez said first baseman Ryan Zimmerman (right oblique strain) is about a week from beginning a rehab assignment.