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Liaw Accustomed to Role

High school golf: He is again the one to beat at the CIF finals, which begin today.

June 04, 2002|PETER YOON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There is no question that Henry Liaw is the player to beat in the CIF-Southern California Golf Assn. high school finals today at the SCGA Members Club in Murrieta.

Ever since he shot a mind-boggling 58 in a junior tournament at age 12, Liaw (rhymes with wow) has been marked as the player to beat in every tournament he's entered.

"They always say, 'If you beat Henry, you win the tournament,'" said Nick Liaw, Henry's father.

Most of the time, they are right.

Liaw, 16, of Hacienda Heights Los Altos High, has won four junior world championships, two shy of the record held by Tiger Woods.

Last summer, he joined Woods and Mike Brannon as the only 15-year-olds to win the U.S. Junior title.

A two-time Southern California player of the year, Liaw was a junior All-American selection by the American Junior Golf Assn. last year.

But it was that 58 he shot in July of 1999 that put Liaw at the forefront of the junior golf scene.

"After that, whenever I went to a tournament people looked at me and realized I was capable of shooting something really deep," Liaw said. "But I look at it as encouragement, not pressure."

The inevitable comparisons with Woods soon followed, but Liaw pays little attention to it.

"There's nobody that's going to be the next Tiger Woods," Liaw said. "All you can be is yourself."

And even though Liaw has two more shots to match Woods as the only repeat champion in the U.S. Junior (Woods won three from 1991-93), equaling the junior achievements of Woods is not Liaw's ultimate goal.

"This is just a junior career," Liaw said. "I'm satisfied with what I've done, but I want to do more. I want to dominate the game. I want to be one of the best ever."

Liaw routinely spends four to eight hours a day at the golf course, honing his skills. He has enlisted a swing coach, a short-game coach and a golf-specific fitness trainer.

He gave up junk food, cut back on soda and has lost nearly 40 pounds. At the same time he has gained about 30 yards off the tee to complement an impeccable short game.

"He can be the best," said Jerry Wong, the only swing coach Liaw has had. "He can be No. 1 in the world. I would not be surprised at all by that."

Liaw won his first Junior World championship in 1996 at age 10 and subsequently became the player to beat in every tournament.

He responded by winning 18 consecutive Southern California PGA junior tournaments, a streak second only to the record 32 won by Woods. Liaw then burst onto the national scene when he made 10 birdies, an eagle and seven pars to shoot 58.

According to Kevin Ostroske, director of junior golf for the Southern California PGA, that success has prepared Liaw better mentally than any player he can remember.

"To deal with that pressure and those expectations at age 12 is pretty tough," Ostroske said. "But he has continued to be successful."

Still, Liaw knows he has a long way to go to become one of the all-time greats. He has not been tempted by the recent surge of teenagers turning professional and includes a college degree among his career goals.

"There is no need to rush into it," Liaw said. "For me, even when I shoot 64 or 65, I still have that feeling inside where I just happened to have a really good day. That's my indicator that I'm not ready.

"I want to feel like when I go out there, 65 or 66 is not a problem. I don't want to feel like I'm grinding just to shoot one-under par."

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