'I have never seen a more talented golfer': Joseph Schooling took to golf like duck to water

Joseph Schooling with his father Colin.
Joseph Schooling with his father Colin.PHOTO: COURTESY OF COLIN SCHOOLING/JIMMY TEO
Joseph (right) with his US college buddies, brothers Walker (far left) and Grant Hill, in Jacksonville in the US.
Joseph (right) with his US college buddies, brothers Walker (far left) and Grant Hill, in Jacksonville in the US.PHOTO: COURTESY OF COLIN SCHOOLING/JIMMY TEO

(SWING BY SPHGOLF) - No Ordinary Joe this, but a world-beater at swimming and an above-average university undergraduate.

He is Joseph Schooling, Singapore’s only Olympic gold medallist who did the country proud by winning the 100m butterfly event in Rio, Brazil, last month.

Schooling, 21, is a Texas University student majoring in economics, with plans to a post-grad in accountancy.

And he is an exceptional golfer, taking to the sport like duck to water since he was introduced to it by his golfing dad, Colin.

Exceptional because he earned his proficiency certificate (PC) at the age of six just after the local golfing rules were changed from being mandatory to those above 12 years to one strictly based on game ability.

So from playing restrictively at the two Tanah Merah Country Club (TMCC) courses with a PC, mostly over nine holes, he graduated to obtaining his handicap within a couple of years, another rare feat in Singapore.

That graduation made the TMCC, Singapore Island Country Club and Sentosa Golf Club courses easily accessible to him. And over 18 holes for sure.

When the subject matter is Joseph, never be surprised. For he believes in making the impossible possible, the ambitions attainable, the dreams achievable.

“I have never seen a more talented golfer,” was how his first coach at TMCC, Kim Baldwin, opened a discussion about Joseph recently. “I was close to his parents, Colin and May, and when they approached me to take Joe under my wing, I agreed.

“And from the get-go I knew he would turn out to be an exceptional talent.

“I have been coaching kids for long, And I must say he was among the better students, easily picking up the pointers because of his tremendous natural ability,” said the Australian who has also mentored many age-group golfers, some later earning national ranks, in Singapore.

The grapevine at TMCC says that if Joseph had not focused on swimming, he would certainly have made it as a national golfer.

Obviously, having parents who are social golfers too helps, as Colin and May, at one time regulars at TMCC, had encouraged Joseph to play the game from a very young age.

Joseph, whose favourite golfer is former world No. 1 Jordan Spieth for obvious reasons (“he’s a Texan”) says: “My strength is that I hit a long ball, but I need to improve on my short game, especially the putting.

“Currently, I play once every two weeks because of studies, but I’m determined to improve.”

Joseph has an extra reason to improve his golf as he will be invited back by the Singapore Swimming Association for a charity event at TMCC’s Garden course on Nov 22.

Before his return to the US after spending five days in Singapore following his Rio success, Joseph had said: “Since I’m invited back, I have to make sure that I play well. I will certainly put in some practice in the US.”

Although his favourite course is Sentosa’s Serapong course, he says: “I also used to like the old Garden course at TMCC before it was reduced to a par-70 from par-72.”

And he is looking forward to games at the redeveloped Tampines (work begins next year), which he believes “will be a new, great experience”.

The four courses at the SICC are also familiar territory for him as he had played on them quite often during his schooling days at the Anglo-Chinese School Junior and ACS (Independent).

Dad Colin, a 12-handicap index player, and his businessman friend Jimmy Teo (HI 18) have played many rounds with Joseph.

Says Colin: “Yes, I introduced Joe to the game, and now he holds a lower handicap than me. But whenever I play with him, we play off the stick. And I have beaten him many times.”

And the former single handicapper who played at three pro-am events (with Ronan Rafferty in 1995, Mark McNulty in 1997 and Eduardo Romero in 2000) at St Andrews in Scotland, adds with some gusto: “The old guy still has something left in him.”

He added Joseph had learnt other important lessons from golf, too. He cited a game at Sentosa last year when he and Joseph lost a small wager to a good buddy and his son.

Joseph took away two lessons from that game: “Never have a wager against someone whom you don’t know or never played with before” and “golf is not about driving long but more so about arriving consistently”.

Teo, who had invited his son Zhen Ren, the SEA Games 1,500m swimming champion in 2011 who is studying at Santa Monica in California, a few times to play with Joseph, said: “Joe has a great swing. I remember a game at the SICC New course, and it was a joy to watch him whack the ball.

“I don’t know how long he hits, as his drives are so far away from mine that it is difficult to assess the difference. But I believe that he drove 290m a few times that day.

“And I remember his fabulous birdie putt on the last hole which saw the oldies (Colin and me) losing a lunch wager.”

Did Joseph say his putting was a weak point? Driving, no doubt, remains his forte.