Golf. It’s not just a Sunday afternoon pastime for outrageously wealthy businessmen like Donald Trump. Each year, a new generation of young golfers rises up to whack the sport’s once-unfashionable reputation into the bunker.
Far from the windswept fairways of Scotland, young Hong Kong golfer Burton Cheung has been playing the sport for six years – that’s more than half his life spent swinging a club. And he would have been golfing for longer, had it not been for a minimum age restriction of five at his local club. Burton got the ball rolling when he was four and started tennis lessons. His coach saw in him the potential to be a great golfer. His parents trusted the observation, enrolled him in a class as soon as he was old enough, and from then on, in his words, he “fell in love.”
Now 11, the South Island School student has won three tournaments in the last year and has his sights set on a life dedicated to golf. In the early days, he took time to polish his technique without rushing into anything too challenging. But it wasn’t long before his teacher was proved correct and Burton was beginning to get noticed.
“I started playing on golf courses and soon, in competitions. I would sometimes win and that makes me proud of myself,” he says. Far from the cacophony of the city, the sport allows Burton to get a bit of peace and quiet – his favourite thing about playing.
“I am a very calm, still and quiet person so this sport is great for me,” he explains. But his unassuming demeanour hides a steely and determined competitor within. Last summer, he was crowned champion of both the Hong Kong Junior Golf Tournament and the Ping Junior Star Trophy, facing off against a succession of rivals on his own team and the wider Hong Kong Golf Association.
In April this year, weeks of training every Sunday paid off when he lifted the winner’s cup once again at the inter-school Samsung 59th Festival of Sports.
“Myself,” he answers, when asked what his greatest threat was in the tournament. “What I mean is that my target is to be better than my score when I played last time.” It came as a surprise to Burton that he won, as he didn’t feel he played the best he could have. “The chief coach of the Australian Golf Academy told me I would be kicked off the golf team if I didn’t achieve what I should have achieved,” he says. “I remember at the time, I was a bit lazy and wasn’t putting in the effort. The coach told me that I had more potential than that.”
Burton describes his ultimate goal as “to be good at golf and also to be in the PGA [Professional Golf Association]. Also, I hope to teach/help others so they can play golf like I can.”
Though he has a natural aptitude for golf, Burton identifies his slight stature as one of the main things that’s currently holding him back. “I am quite small in size and that makes a big difference because it means I cannot hit as far as my golf mates,” he says. But his dreams, ambition and positive attitude make up for what he might currently lack in height. “If you believe in yourself, you can reach your potential and vice versa!”
What song/movie title best describes you when you’re playing your sport?
I think the song Midnight City because midnight is usually a very quiet time and golf requires a great amount of peace and silence.
You can have any superpower you choose for 24 hours. What do you choose and how do you use this power?
If I could have any superpower for one day, I want to be able to control the weather. For example, the Philippines are suffering from a drought and Hong Kong is experiencing too much rain. I could move the rain to Philippines and save the dry areas.
If you could have an unlimited supply of anything, what would it be and why?
If I could have an unlimited supply of something, I would want a never-ending life so that I could see all the changes in the future.
10 years in the future, you are a famous athlete. What company do you sign-on as spokesperson for, and what product do you promote?
I want to sign for Ferrari’s F40 because the shell of this car is made out of recycled materials.