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High School Female Athlete of the Week: Wa Yeung Tong breaking out for Newport Harbor golf

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Wa Yeung Tong is looking to become the first Newport Harbor golfer in coach Scott Tarnow’s 20 years to reach the CIF State championship on Nov. 19.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Newport Harbor High senior Wa Yeung Tong has a determination to improve in golf, despite any challenges thrown her way.

Tong, who lived in China until she was 13 and also goes by Cathy, didn’t pick up the sport until midway through her freshman year. That didn’t stop her from being the quickest learner that Scott Tarnow has seen in 20 years as the Sailors coach.

The only thing that could stop Tong was an injury, and that struck over the summer. Her left wrist started hurting in June, but true to form, that didn’t stop her from playing for more than a month.

Tong’s mother knew about the injury, but Tong said she still did not reveal the full extent of the pain.

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“I’d been telling her that it was kind of hurt, but I didn’t tell her everything,” Tong said. “I didn’t want to stop. People always say that in golf, if you don’t practice for three days, you know yourself. If you don’t practice for five days, your coach will know. But if you don’t practice for seven days, the score will show that. I didn’t want to stop golfing because of my injury.”

The pain in her wrist finally got so bad that Tong was forced to withdraw from the Kia Junior Championship, an AJGA event in early August at Palos Verdes Golf Club. When she went back to Hong Kong for nearly a month to visit family, she didn’t golf. Tong missed a few early matches for the Sailors before starting the sport up again in late September.

The wrist is still sore, and Tong still wears kinesiology tape when she plays. But she is looking more and more like a golfer who is past that injury and peaking to end her high school career.

Tong, the Wave League runner-up, won the CIF Southern Section Individual Southern Regional tournament at Los Serranos Country Club’s South course in Chino Hills on Oct. 29. Her school-record round was six-under-par 68, and that included eight birdies.

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Newport Harbor’s Cathy Tong tees off on the 11th hole in the CIF Southern Section Individual Southern Regional tournament at Los Serranos Country Club in Chino Hills on Oct. 29.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

She went on to shoot a three-over-par 75 on Thursday at the CIF Southern Section/SCGA Individual tournament at Western Hills Country Club in Chino Hills, tying for 12th place. Tong was one of 28 golfers to move on to the CIF Southern California Regional championship, which takes place Nov. 14 at Brookside Golf & Country Club in Pasadena.

She is one tournament away from the CIF State championship, which is Nov. 19 at Poppy Hills Golf Course in Pebble Beach. Tarnow said no Newport Harbor golfer in his 20 years has made it there. The closest was Natalie Draganza, who went on to play at Boston College. Draganza came within a stroke as a junior in 2004.

“I thought Cathy had a fantastic shot of advancing [at the CIF Individual Southern Regional],” Tarnow said. “To say that I thought she could win the whole thing? I was not thinking that. What’s amazing, and what I’ve never seen in my 20 years of coaching, is the speed with which she’s taken herself to the level that she’s at.

“She actually didn’t even know she shot six-under. She thought she shot like three-under, so she wasn’t really paying attention to her score. Some of the rawness of how long she’s been playing golf kind of helps her a little bit, I think, just with going out and playing and not getting caught up in the moment. I’m not exactly sure if she knows exactly what she did, as far as winning CIF. The names in the tournament ... some of those girls are AJGA champions and they’re going to huge Division 1 schools.”

Tong said she also wants to play in college, and perhaps professionally. Her drive and determination have gotten her far, though she wouldn’t call herself a hard worker.

“When people say you’re working really hard, it’s because you’re working on something you don’t like,” she said. “For me, I don’t think I’m working hard for golf. I’m just playing ... For golf, I’m just getting better and having fun and enjoying the game. I like it, so I don’t think I’m trying hard or working hard on it.”

However far Tong ends up going in her senior year, her success story is one that Tarnow will not soon forget. This year represented her first time advancing past the CIF Individual Southern Regional tournament; last year she shot an 81 and lost a playoff to move on.

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She got into the sport almost by chance. She ran into Tarnow on the Newport Harbor campus as a freshman and noticed the word “golf” on his shirt.

“I can still perfectly visualize all these little steppingstones,” Tarnow said. “The first day, just the light up in her face. She was like, ‘I like this!’ I’ve never really seen anybody say that. She was there for hours and would hit ball after ball. Then I’d slowly teach her new things. I’d take her out to the golf course and we’d play two holes, or three holes.

“The first time she actually played nine holes, I think she shot a 48. She made two birdies. I mean, it was just unbelievable. She actually lipped out and almost made a double eagle. And it was less than a year later that she was shooting in the 70s ... She’s just absolutely falling in love with golf. It’s just very raw and rich, very dynamic. Cool to be a part of that.”

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Newport Harbor senior Wa Yeung Tong’s next tournament is the CIF Southern California Regional championship on Thursday at Brookside Golf & Country Club in Pasadena.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Wa Yeung Tong

Born: March 7, 2002

Hometown: Hong Kong, China

Height: 5 feet 6

Sport: Golf

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Year: Senior

Coach: Scott Tarnow

Favorite food: Vanilla ice cream

Favorite movie: “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”

Favorite athletic moment: Winning the CIF Southern Section Individual Southern Regional tournament on Oct. 29 at Los Serranos Country Club’s South course in Chino Hills.

Week in review: Tong shot a program-record six-under-par round of 68, including eight birdies, to win the CIF Individual Southern Regional tournament.

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