Personal Best: Golf phenom may possess the eye of the Tiger

Eleven-year-old Samantha Gong is a multisport athlete and a one-sport phenomenon.

The resident of San Francisco’s Excelsior District has inherited her father Calvin’s love for sports. A sixth-grader at Claire Lilienthal School, Gong recently replaced soccer and swimming with basketball and volleyball. She also ice skates, and she enjoys playing badminton and tennis with her mother, Nancy.

But it’s the 210-yard drives and 160-yard five-iron shots that set her apart and garner the attention.

“People stop on the driving range and gawk,” said Judith Powell, Gong’s coach and executive director of the First Tee of San Francisco. “Samantha’s solid, but not a big girl. She has an innate sense of how to generate power with a Tiger Woods-esque extension through the ball.”

Gong may have the opportunity to meet Woods at the Presidents Cup, which will be held Thursday through Sunday at The City’s Harding Park Golf Course.

In her first “inside the ropes” exposure, Gong will serve as a standard bearer, carrying a signboard with players’ scores. Woods’ foursome would serve as her ideal assignment.

“I’m hoping to get some advice on chipping and putting,” Gong said.

She will also be spending a day in the PG&E hospitality tent, educating event goers to the benefits of the First Tee program, which served as Gong’s entrée to the game.

“I chose golf because it’s challenging, and you have to think a lot to see how to get this white, tiny golf ball into a 4-inch cup,” Gong said.

Averaging in the low 40s in nine-hole tournament play, the youngster beams as she realls the details of an eagle (2-under par) she tallied at a tournament last summer at the San Jose Municipal Golf Course.

“I drove 195 yards off the tee and pitched about 75 yards on the green. The putt was 5 to 8 feet,” Gong said. “I had been playing bad and after that I was really happy and told myself to keep going, and I came in second place.”

This beyond-her-years mental and emotional maturity is the primary source of pride Calvin Gong feels for the oldest of his four daughters.

“I see the love that she has for the game,” her father said. “The way she is able to reset and refocus her mind when confronted with obstacles on the course. If she has had an off day, and I’m down, she’ll say, ‘it’s OK, dad, I have another tournament coming.’”

With her pupil’s athletic gifts, natural ability and grounded mindset, Powell perceives “the sky’s the limit” for the talented young golfer.

“The interesting thing is she uses hand-me-down equipment, not custom equipment,” the coach said. “Once Samantha gets custom clubs, she’ll be phenomenal.”

The Presidents Cup will be unforgettable for Gong, as she will experience first-hand her hometown as the host of the international match-play event. If she does pick up a few chipping and putting tips from Tiger, the event will be that much better.
 

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