What It’s Like to Be a 12-Year-Old in the Canadian Open

On August 22, 2019, Michelle Liu became the youngest golfer to play the Canadian Women’s Open in its 47-year history. Here’s what it’s like to compete in the big leagues before you’re even a teenager. By Michelle Liu, as told to Jusneel Mahal.

I started playing because my older sister was into it. I remember it being very interesting to be able to put a ball into a hole, and how your score can be a four but there are hundreds of different ways that you can make your four.

That was six years ago… so a long time ago. Because I’ve played in tournament golf for quite a while, when I get to the first tee, I just try to forget about everything—that’s how I like to start my round. When I was younger, I wouldn’t really think too much about being calm, and I would get very mad and mess up on the hole I was on and the hole after that. I think I just started learning that it’s not going to do you any good if you get mad—you’re just going to mess up even more.  

I have golf lessons three times a week at my golf coach’s facility, then after that I have fitness, because there is also a fitness aspect. So that’s just in terms of lessons. I also practice by myself after school, and after and before my lessons. My school is pretty lenient with missing classes and absences, as long as you let them know in advance and give them a legitimate reason, but most of the larger tournaments tend to be in the summer, during summer break. There’s definitely time for me to do homework because a round of golf practice only takes so long, and you can’t practice all the time. Usually when I play in tournaments I have quite a bit of time after my round or before and after the tournament starts. But obviously there will be more homework in high school—I’m not sure exactly how that will be, but hopefully it will still work.

The Canadian Women’s Amateur was the way I qualified for the Canadian Open this year. I was definitely really surprised. Playing in professional events was something that I wanted to do, but I wasn’t going into the amateur championship thinking, “I have to qualify for the Women’s Open.” I think not having that as a goal helped me cool down, because if that were something that was in my mind a lot, I would be more likely to feel pressure on the last couple of holes.

There were so many great players in it that I didn’t have much of a goal, except to play as well as possible. But even if I didn’t have many high expectations, playing in such a big event is very scary. When you’re someone who has won the Canadian Women’s Open before, I’d say there’s definitely more pressure to perform, but for me there isn’t much pressure to do anything except play. I wouldn’t say there are a lot of disadvantages, besides being younger and physically not being able to hit it as far. As I get older I would like to get more distance off of the tee. Hitting it a little bit farther will make it more possible to score well on long-courses.

I was definitely nervous, but it was also really exciting. My tee time was early on Thursday and later in the afternoon on Friday. I’d never played Magna Golf Club until I played in the Canadian Women’s Open. It’s definitely a really beautiful course, and it’s pretty exclusive, too, so I’m glad I got to play it. The fairways are pretty wide, and because it got a lot of rain that week everything was sticking pretty well. The rough was very long, though, which made it very complicated if you did miss the wide fairways. But it wasn’t the hardest course I’ve played. 

I was very glad for many of the Canadian spectators. I was getting a lot of support from the crowd, they were really cheering me on. That part was definitely pretty new—it was a test to keep my thoughts where they should be, like on where my next shot should be.

I wouldn’t say there is much socializing during the actual rounds because everyone is focused on their next shots. But in the practice rounds I got to play with some really great professional players—I played with Christina Kim and a lot of other great golfers—and I got a lot of advice from them, which is great, too. A lot of them told me to enjoy this experience, but I’d say Christina gave me more practical advice, for example, ways to tell what the prevalent winds are doing.

The greatest lesson I learned from the tournament was to stay in the moment, not think too much about what’s going to happen after or before, and just enjoy the experience. Golf is definitely a game with a lot of luck involved—I don’t think you can change how your ball bounces out of a tree.