Chinese golfer Liu Yu was just 13 when she first played at the 2009 HSBC Women's Champions pro-am alongside the world's top two, Lorena Ochoa and Tseng Ya-ni, in Singapore as part of the HSBC Junior Programme.
Then she was in awe of them. Now, at least for a day, people were looking up at her atop the leaderboard at the US$1.5 million (S$2 million) HSBC Women's World Championship. Yesterday, the 23-year-old from Beijing shared the lead with current No. 1 Ariya Jutanugarn, Frenchwoman Celine Boutier, American Amy Olson and Australian Minjee Lee.
Defending champion Michelle Wie, 29, withdrew with a wrist injury after 14 holes, as did South Koreans Amy Yang (flu) and Kim Sei-young (back injury).
After shooting a four-under 68 in the first round at Sentosa Golf Club's New Tanjong Course, Liu quipped: "Dreams do come true, but it's 10 years... took pretty long."
The affable Liu then shared how that moment in 2009 changed her life. Having picked up golf as a nine-year-old because her parents played it, Liu was not interested in becoming a professional athlete because "it was tiring, I hated waking up early and I didn't like travelling".
But rubbing shoulders with Ochoa and Tseng whetted her appetite for elite golf, and she wanted more of that experience.
So she started learning English because she wanted to play college golf in America, and eventually won the 2013-14 national championship with Duke University.
Liu turned pro in 2015 and played on the Symetra Tour until 2017, when she won the Tullymore Classic and finished fifth on the money list to earn LPGA membership for 2018. As a rookie, she made 21 cuts in 27 events, including three top-10 finishes and a seventh-placed finish at the Women's British Open.
She looks up to former No. 1 Feng Shanshan, who was one shot behind the lead with six others, for her "unparalleled mental strength".
But Liu also displayed her own mental fortitude as she rebounded from bogeys on the first and 17th holes to make six birdies, the most made by any player yesterday.
She will need to keep her focus for the rest of the week, with top players like Ariya serving notice of her intention to win in an LPGA Tour event in Asia for the first time with a flawless round.
"I would certainly like to add a win in Asia at some point soon. I don't know yet if I can or not this week, but I wish I can," said the 23-year-old Thai, who was the only golfer in the leading pack to avoid a bogey in the first round.
"Today, I played pretty good. I hit pretty good tee shots and my irons were good.
"The greens were pretty fast and really tough because it's really firm. It's so tough to hit it close to the pin. I missed quite a lot of putts but I also made a few."
Singaporean Amanda Tan had a rough start, an 83 to prop up the leaderboard of 60 women.