British Columbia·Video

'Definitely excited, a little bit nervous': 12-year-old Vancouver golfer set for record-breaking debut

Vancouver's Michelle Liu, who is preparing to become the youngest golfer ever at the Canadian Women's Open that starts today in Aurora, Ont., spoke with CBC News on what she's looking forward to at her first big tournament.

Michelle Liu looks forward to playing against previous record-holder Brooke Henderson

At age 12, Vancouver golfer Michelle Liu is the youngest player ever to earn a spot in the Canadian Women’s Open. She unseated fellow Canadian and LPGA tour golfer Brooke Henderson, who was 14 when she made the professional tournament. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

When eighth graders across the country return to school from summer break with tales of adventure to share, Vancouver's Michelle Liu will have a story that may top them all. 

Liu is making her debut at the Canadian national women's golf tournament in Aurora, Ont., on Thursday, earning the spot after finishing as top Canadian at the amateur championship in July.

"I'm definitely very excited," she said in an interview with CBC News, with a slight hint of nerves in her voice. "To be able to play with so many great players, and on such a beautiful course and such a great tournament, almost a major tournament. It's definitely a highlight I'd say in my golfing career."

A short career, but already an impressive one.

Liu has won two junior world championships.

When she tees off at the Canadian Women's Open at age 12 years, nine months and six days, she will be the youngest ever to do so, eclipsing the record set when fellow Canadian golf phenom Brooke Henderson made her debut at 14.

Liu began playing golf at six years old, when her mother enrolled her in a golf camp with her older sister. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

"It means a lot to me to be able to play with these people that I watch on TV, and follow on leader boards and I see them there. lt means a lot to me to be able to meet them and actually be able to compete against them."

Swinging clubs at the age 6

Liu's golf journey began in the footsteps of her older sister, who was enrolled in golf summer camp by her mom.

While most six-year-olds were on the field playing soccer, Liu said she found herself better suited to the demands of golf.

"I wasn't really good at things that were related to co-ordination with, like, your feet … it really interested me that I could move something around [with a club] and get something into a hole."

Watch 7-year-old Michelle Liu works on her golf mechanics

In a video uploaded by her coach Rob Houlding, a seven-year-old Michelle Liu works on her footwork and co-ordination. In the post, Houlding noted she improved the second time without any coaching. 1:21

Her coach, Rob Houlding, has been with Liu since she first set foot on a golf green, and said she has the mental tools to succeed.

"I constantly tell her she's amazing," Houlding said with a smile. "There's something special about Michelle. She's very strong willed …  she can really plug into the task at hand."

He's seen Liu grow as both a golfer and a person too, displaying a maturity beyond her years in how she handles her emotions.

"She's learning to handle that emotion better. But even when she was a little bit emotional when she was younger — like a little teary sometimes she felt like it was slipping away from her — she was still able to pull it back together again and finish the job."

Rob Houlding, a PGA of Canada teaching professional, has been coaching Liu since she was six years old. (Evan Mitsui/CBC News)

Course & clubhouse diversity

Even at such a young age, Liu recognizes the importance of seeing more culturally diverse people on the course. Of the 15 Canadians in this tournament, three are of Asian heritage.

"I see a lot of Asian players too who are starting to look toward playing golf," said Liu. "Being Asian, myself, I think it's really important that lots of people of different backgrounds can be able to play golf and play at a high level, so you can see diversity, I guess, amongst players in the field."

That diversity is part of what has helped make Liu successful, according to Houlding

"People that come here from Asia, China, Korea or other populated countries know that you have to work really hard to rise up and be something or someone in that society and that work ethic is carried over here into golf."

Watch as Michelle Liu reflects on her golf career ahead of her first major tournament

Michelle Liu, a 12-year-old golfer from Vancouver, began playing when she was six. While most of her friends were playing soccer, Liu says the traits golf requires better suited her skills. 2:17

When the tournament begins, Liu will have an international audience.

Her mom has been with her the whole week. Her dad and grandma are coming from China, despite the latter being in poor health, and her best friend and family in Vancouver will be in attendance as well.

Houlding said Liu's training regimen will actually decrease in the coming years as her academic demands increase. However, he believes since Liu has so much early experience, she'll be able to focus on academics and maintain a high level of play — something Liu is clearly prioritizing.

"I hope I can continue playing golf for a long time. I hope I can get some experience from this tournament and learn a lot."

With files from Aarti Pole


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