Golf: SEA Games champion Leow relishes hard work as he sets lofty goals

James Leow has set his sights on the SEA Games, Asian Games and Eisenhower Trophy over the next two years.
James Leow has set his sights on the SEA Games, Asian Games and Eisenhower Trophy over the next two years.PHOTO: SNOC

SINGAPORE - Playing repeatedly on his mind often is this reassuring truism: "I'm not entitled to anything, I have to work my butt off to get what I want (success)."

In fact, it is a creed by which golfer James Leow lives and breathes his "passion" that has catapulted the Singaporean from humble beginnings at Seletar Country Club to being the best amateur player in South-east Asia in 2019.

And that major milestone, which the 24-year-old describes as his "pinnacle" in 18 years of hard slog on courses, ranges and gyms, came in style at the Luisita Golf & Country Club in the Philippines.

Trailing by two shots going into the final round, Leow fashioned a scintillating seven-under 65 to subdue Thailand's favourite and overnight leader Tanapat Pichaikool by one shot for the prestigious title.

The Arizona State University undergrad recalls: "It was a huge stepping stone for myself, family and Singapore going forward. I was definitely excited to bring the individual gold medal back for Singapore after 30 years since Samson Gimson won in 1989.

"I felt like all my hard work and sacrifices leading up to the Games paid off. I knew going into the final round, I needed a low round to have a chance. The strategy was to birdie as many holes on the front nine and be in contention down the stretch.

"Significantly, making the birdie on the last hole to win outright is definitely one of the best feelings any golfer will experience and I'll never forget that. I was speechless after the putt dropped and I was proud to raise the Singapore flag."

In fact, since his dad Leow Pee Lip introduced him to the game at the age of six, and at nine when the precocious Leow came under the wings of former Putra Cup champion Phua Thin Kiay, he was fully focused on golf.

And later when he trained under Australian coach Brian Galvin (12 to 17 years) and former national player Justin Han (17 onwards), Leow did not allow anything to derail his game-plan.

The better-than-average student of Anglo-Chinese Junior College even took the bold move of halting his JC studies and clearing his obligatory National Service duties with the sole purpose of seeking a golf-education in the United States, the priority being a pathway towards professional golf.

So the reputable Arizona State University beckoned, and now he is enjoying his stint there for "the finance major curriculum is perfect for a student athlete, with classes in the mornings and the afternoons and evenings devoted to golf."

The winner of two individual collegiate events has set his sights on the SEA Games, Asian Games and Eisenhower Trophy over the next two years before embarking on a planned professional career on one of the Tours in the US.

Providing him the incentive and impetus to achieve these goals is the recent encouraging news that he secured a Spex Scholarship that will allow him to play golf and study without worry about finance.

Leow, the second golfer to win the scholarship after Jonathan Woo in 2014, says: "I am super happy about getting the Spex scholarship. With the support from Team Singapore and the Singapore Golf Association, I am able to get access to things I wasn't able to before.

"I'm also able to travel and compete more to get as much experience as I can to better prepare for major events."

The scholarship enables athletes to compete with distinction, and hopefully win medals at Asian, World and Olympic levels. It is designed to build a team of sports scientists, sports medicine experts and athlete planners and lifestyle managers around the athletes to give them every chance to achieve their goals.

Leow, who admires Adam Scott's smooth swing, Jordan Spieth's putting and Justin Thomas' wedge game, sees his dad as his greatest inspiration.

"He has always provided me with constant advice and support. He humbled me during my highs and motivated me during my lows, a great balance for me as an athlete."

Precision engineering and business are job scopes very familiar to Leow Senior, and their applications come naturally for him because the 15-handicapper is a glutton for work, believing that nothing comes easy.

The affable and well-mannered Leow has been well schooled in that belief. That is why he has a work ethic so admired that he can set lofty goals.