There’s a special feeling that comes from tuning in to watch the final round of a major championship, seeing players battle down the closing stretch on any given Sunday or witnessing a surprising come from behind finish to see a player capture their first victory on Tour.
Rookie Jing Yan watched too, slightly closer to the action. From the TV broadcast booth.
The daughter of veteran ESPN golf commentator in Asia, Yan Ming, she had a front row seat to learning the game from golf’s biggest names.
“He was invited to host many events in the Asia region such as the HSBC Women's and Men’s Champions,” Yan said by email Thursday. “He also needed to take care of me as well, so whenever I was not in school I tagged along with him on set hoping to meet my idols.”
And meet them she did. During a trip to the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai where her father was emcee for the tournament clinic, nine-year-old Yan stood in the crowd watching Tiger Woods give tips when she soon became the main attraction.
“The session was almost over when my dad pointed out to Tiger that there was a nine year old girl crouching in the corner of the sea of people and whether he would like to see her hit a few shots,” Yan said. “Tiger asked me to come forward and I took a nine iron and set three shots straight at the pin which made me immensely relieved considering how nervous I was meeting Tiger Woods!”
Yan says her parents also took her to watch one of her biggest idols, Annika Sorenstam. “Growing up, Annika was a huge role model being who she was and the role she played in the world of women's golf,” Yan said. “I was able to watch her practice which made me really excited. On the first day I tried to ask for her autograph but was too shy, but I got my chance on the next when I saw her and finally plucked up the courage to do it!”
Now Yan is the one signing autographs as a rookie this season on the LPGA Tour.
A 34th place finish at Qualifying School earned her conditional status and a spot at 183 on the Tour’s Priority List to start the season, requiring her to Monday qualify for most events. With only seven or eight opportunities to qualify in the first ten events of the year, she made the most of the chances she was given, earning a spot in the field at the Coates Golf Championship and LOTTE Championship. She also played in the HSBC Women’s Champions. Her T-66, T-46 and T-58 finishes were enough to move her up to 154 on the Priority List after the reshuffle following the Volunteers of America North Texas Shootout.
With her new status, the former Girls British Open Amateur champion earned her way into last week’s Kingsmill Championship Presented by JTBC and posted her best finish at T-11.
“It was the first tournament that I was able to get into based on my status, giving me an opportunity to prepare with more time on both strategy and technique without the immense pressure and energy that goes into an all or nothing qualifier and I felt that I prepared well and was able to perform better overall.”
Yan has never missed a cut in an LPGA Tour event and is just one of two rookies to do so. She played in several professional events as an amateur, giving her valuable experience that many rookies on tour are struggling to learn. At just 16-years-old, Yan qualified for the Ricoh Women’s British Open and fought to make the cut with a second round 69 after carding an opening round 80. She also qualified for and made the cut in last year’s Evian Championship. After a near win at the China Suzhou Taihu Open in 2013, where she lost the lead late in the final round and finished third, Yan says it left her hungry for more.
“Those experiences have definitely helped and shaped me playing in tournaments this year,” Yan said.
Her father also continues to be a big help, trading his microphone for a spot on her bag as her caddie on Tour.
“I love having him with me when I compete,” Yan said. “His experience as a golf commentator of over twenty years and being a good golfer himself helps me with both my technical and psychological side through his advice. He doesn't push me and lets me decide my own path, which I can't describe how grateful I am for. We make a good team.”
The father-daughter team returns to action next week where Yan is in the field at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.