For Cindy Kou, golf is a family affair.
Kou, who also goes by her Chinese given name Xin, is the daughter of two avid golfers. Her mom, Haiyan Wu, is involved with the sport, but it’s her dad, Liguo Kou, who owns most of the hardware. Liguo has won numerous amateur tournaments back home in China and has a well-stocked trophy case to show for his efforts.
In China, there are noticeably fewer players at all levels of the game than there are in the U.S. There are also fewer coaches and practice facilities to go around. Golf is costly and thus reserved for families who are relatively well off. Despite all of that, China is the birthplace of Kou’s passion for the sport.
“That (my father’s career) kind of inspired me to win a lot of tournaments and get a bunch of trophies,” she revealed.
So far, the 17-year old is off to a flying start.
Kou, who speaks both Mandarin and English, moved to the United States eight years ago with her mother. One important reason they moved was so she could find the type of high-caliber coaching that is rare in China.
Kou started out at the IMG Academy, a well-known sports training ground in Bradenton, Florida, before moving to Orlando and more recently to Whittier, California. She displayed flashes of potential in 2019 with three top-10 finishes, including a win at the ANA Junior Inspiration last March.
And then, COVID-19 put the world on pause.
“I think it’s a very special year for all of us,” Kou said over the phone. “Last year, I wanted to take an off-season just to get fresh again, which I did. And I was getting ready for my tournaments in the beginning of the year, like February, March, but then, those got canceled.”
Undeterred, Kou continued to put in work, both stateside and back home in China. She feels that taking time off helped to renew her body and mind, enabling her to return to practice at full capacity. She also credits her parents, especially her mom, for instilling a relentless work ethic that pushed her through these unusual times.
“They’re very … they’re Asians, and that’s really a big impact on who I am,” Kou admitted. “My practice schedule, it would be more like, heartbreaking, long hours, compared to some other players my age.”
Indeed it was. According to her fitness trainer, Josh Loyo, Kou once practiced golf for at least eight hours a day on top of her homework and exercise regimens. Her workload simply wasn’t sustainable, and it took a toll on her physical and mental health.
Kou’s performance improved dramatically once she accepted Loyo’s wisdom about the importance of rest and recovery. She doesn’t juggle as many balls anymore, at least not in the way she used to. As a result, she is fresher, stronger and much less prone to burnout, and her new approach is already paying dividends.
The Stanford Golf Course is no walk in the park. It is known as a tight setup that punishes mistakes off the tee. Miss a fairway, and you’ll find yourself well off-course.
Kou tackled Stanford for the first time last August at the Swinging Skirts AJGA Invitational. She finished T-7 that weekend 2-over 212, learning valuable lessons along the way. And as things turned out, Kou’s 2020 season began Sept. 4-7 with the AJGA Girls Invitational at — where else — Stanford.
“I was actually really nervous on the first hole because I haven’t played in a year and I just didn’t really know how it would turn out,” Kou admitted. “But, after I hit the first shot, everything just kind of came back to me.”
This time, the Beijing native was ready. She’s always hit it straight with her driver and used it to find fairways time and again. She was also locked in on many of her approach shots and estimates that she hit around 15 greens per day. Kou carded a 9-under 204, earning a slim one-shot victory over runner-up Brooke Biermann. Third-place finisher Lucy Yuan was all the way back at 2 under.
Kou kept things rolling last weekend in Mesa, Arizona at the AJGA Longbow Golf Club Open, where she took command in decisive fashion. Rounds of 63 and 66 catapulted her to a blistering 13 under over 36 holes, eight shots ahead of second-place Kelly Xu. Only three other girls managed to finish under par.
Even Aidan Tran, winner of the boys’ side of the tournament, could manage no better than 8 under: five shots back of Kou.
“The fact that she dominated the field out there is quite impressive,” Loyo remarked. “She’s just a grinder. She puts in the work. She complains a little bit, you know, but that’s normal.
“She’s honest, she’s upfront, she’s genuine. I appreciate that she wants to put in the work outside of just golf and realizes the importance of her (physical fitness) as well.”
Onward and Upward
With an 11th victory under her belt, Kou is now T-7 for most career individual wins by a female AJGA competitor. In all likelihood, she is just getting started, and she’s got a solid team behind her.
In addition to Loyo, Kou is mentored by South Korea’s Charlie Wi, a former ski instructor and PGA Tour golfer with 21 top-10 finishes to his name. A great all-round athlete, Wi has developed and maintained his flexibility through martial arts, and Kou credits him with helping her improve her form.
“In the past month, he’s really helped me with understanding my own swing, which I struggled with in the past,” she admitted.
Currently a high school senior, Kou will graduate next year and plans to attend USC. She’s not yet sure what major she will take, although business is a possibility. After that, though, Kou’s goals are clear. She aims to turn professional and become one of the best players on the LPGA Tour.
Kou names Sung Hyun Park and Lydia Ko as two of her favorite golfers. If all goes according to plan, she may very well be joining them on the world stage in a few years.
“With her dedication to her game right now, it’s inevitable,” Loyo opined. “As long as she is able to keep her head on and keep doing what she’s doing, she’s going to get there no matter what.”