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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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The details on Alex Smith's gruesome injury are even worse than you expected

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When Alex Smith went down in Sunday's loss to the Texans, the injury looked bad. From his reaction and the instant reaction of his teammates and coaches, it became obvious the severity of the situation. 

As soon as the video replays showed Smith's leg bend in the way it wasn't intended, the whole world knew bones were broken. 

Now, though, as details begin to emerge after Smith had successful surgery on the injury, it sounds even worse than it looked. 

On Monday, Jay Gruden explained that Smith faces a recovery time of six to eight months. That timeline puts Smith on pace to return for training camp in 2019, but that also assumes no complications from surgery and a full recovery. Smith will be 35 in May.

The Redskins acquired Smith via trade during the 2018 offseason, and immediately agreed to a contract extension with the quarterback. That deal includes $71 million guaranteed for injury.

In his first season as Redskins starter, Smith was completing 62 percent of his passes for 2,180 yards to go with 10 TDs against five INTs in 10 games before the injury. Smith guided the Redskins to a 6-3 record before leaving the Texans game and eventually landing on the injured reserve list. 

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Undermanned Capitals finish road trip in style with 5-4 overtime win in Montreal

Undermanned Capitals finish road trip in style with 5-4 overtime win in Montreal

Alex Ovechkin stared into the rafters at Bell Centre but he was not looking at all the championship banners. 

Ripping a shot from his office in the left faceoff circle with under one second remaining in Monday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, Ovechkin assumed he had just won a wild one for the Capitals. 

Instead, goalie Carey Price’s desperate dive allowed him to get the knob of his stick in the way. Ovechkin looked upward and then all he could do was clap and tap Price as he skated away with a wry smile.

The smile was broader a few minutes later after teammate Lars Eller slipped a shot through Price’s pads at 3:34 of overtime to earn Washington a comeback 5-4 win and end a difficult road trip with a 3-1-0 record with two overtime victories.

Ovechkin scored twice and was robbed of a hat trick multiple times by Price, who allowed four goals but made some astounding saves. The fact that Washington won anyway epitomized a road trip where they played shorthanded from the start. 

Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie haven’t played since getting hurt in the second game of the trip at the Winnipeg Jets. Braden Holtby was a surprise scratch before the first game against the Minnesota Wild last Tuesday. He didn’t make an appearance until the second period against the Canadiens, who chased Pheonix Copley from the net with three goals in the first 95 seconds of the second period. 

Just like that a 2-1 lead was a 4-2 deficit and Holtby, out three games with an upper body injury, was needed. He stopped all 22 shots Montreal sent his way and gave Washington a chance to rally. Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin and, finally, Eller scored on Price to win it. 

“Those are huge for the season as it moves on,” Holtby said. “When you are in those situations, you get more and more comfortable. It’s been one of our big strengths the last couple years and to see it happening again, I think that’s a good sign for us.”

It IS a good sign going forward – provided Oshie and Kuznetsov are able to return to the ice soon. With a day off Tuesday and games Wednesday (Chicago Blackhawks), Friday (Detroit Red Wings), and Saturday (at New York Rangers) in a busy Thanksgiving Week there isn’t much practice time.

But for a short time at least missing two of their top five scorers wasn’t a problem. The depth the Capitals showed during last year’s Stanley Cup playoff run is still there. They needed it. And with another four games in six days upcoming, they might need it longer still. 

Copley wasn’t as good as he’d been in starts against the Wild, Jets and Colorado Avalanche. But Eller was able to handle a top-six role, Tom Wilson was again a factor in his fourth game back from a 16-game suspension and Washington got a goal from Connolly, who began the game on the fourth line after a rough night in Denver and by the second period against the Canadiens he was on the second line with Eller and Jakub Vrana.   

So after losing back-to-back games to end a five-game homestand, the Capitals have stabilized even without a full lineup. At 10-7-3 and with 23 standings points, Washington is in third place in the Metropolitan Division through 20 games. 

The Caps have made it through a dangerous first quarter of the season in a reasonable spot. They could be like the Pittsburgh Penguins (7-8-4), who are already making trades and sit in last place after four losses in a row, or the Philadelphia Flyers (9-9-2), who have lost three straight. 

Instead, they knocked off one tough road trip (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal) in late October and then this one in mid November with a 5-3-0 record. Things could have gone off the rails. That they did not is a victory in itself.     

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