In June, 19-year-old James Leow gave up one form of education for another. He dropped out of school to chase his eventual dream of becoming a professional golfer based in the United States.
Yesterday, that bold gamble delivered the first pay-off as he triumphed at the Singapore National Amateur Championship at Tanah Merah Country Club's Tampines Course.
It was an improvement on last year's performance, when he finished runner-up to national golfer Johnson Poh, 22 at the time.
Having joined the national squad at the start of the year, his first title earned the amateur a spot with the professionals in the US$1 million (S$1.4 million) Singapore Open from Jan 28 to 31 next year.
The hard hitter trounced 2013 champion Yash Majmudar - who is also 19 years old - 6-5 in a 36-hole matchplay final.
He recorded six birdies in the first seven holes to go 6-up.
"My first 18 (holes) were hot, man. The ball was like a magnet to the hole," said Leow, shaking his head in surprise as he recounted the day's events.
"It was the best round I've ever played."
US-based Majmudar, a Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy student, conceded that Leow was just too good. "There was nothing much I could have done today. He put me on the back foot all the way."
Leow's victory comes just two months after the three-handicapper pulled the plug on his education at Anglo-Chinese Junior College.
The St Gabriel's Secondary alumnus is expected to enlist in National Service early next year, and intends to study engineering at a California college to further his golfing aspirations.
For now, with studies out of his way, Leow can devote a lot more time to the greens and to his quest for improvement. He has stepped up his training at Seletar Country Club from once or twice a week to about six to eight hours daily under Singapore-based Australian coach Brian Galvin.
"Previously, he wasn't able to put all the pieces together, even though he had the tools to win," noted Gavin, who has been Leow's coach since he was 11. "But lately, he's started to realise that he can win. He's got that belief now."
Gavin said the improvement was due to a combination of form and momentum, as well as Leow's improved mental strength.
The teenager is exuberant about teeing off at Sentosa Golf Club's challenging Serapong course when the Singapore Open returns after a three-year hiatus.
"It has been my dream to play with the professionals," said Leow, whose favourite golfers are Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott.
"I grew up watching these professional golfers play the sport. Their skill levels create the impression that it looks as easy as a Wii game. I have always wished that I would get to play with them one day.
"I'm excited and overjoyed. This is a significant step towards what I hope to do one day as a tournament player."
In the women's division, Jen Goh retained her title by beating Ou Yang Hua 6-5.
This article was first published on Aug 21, 2015.
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