Susan Xiao of (China) Surrey, British Columbia, started playing golf when she was just 5 years old after watching her dad at the range sparked her curiosity. Fast-forward 14 years later, and a lot has changed since she was first drawn to the game.
In her five years of national junior golf, Xiao was an AJGA champion, Rolex Junior All-American, high school captain and four-time team MVP. She competed in the USGA's Junior Girls’ Championship, Women’s Amateur Championship and Women’s Four-Ball Championship, won the 2017 Canadian Junior Girls’ Championship and graduated with the highest distinction.
With all of her success at the junior level, Xiao hasn't stopped there. She is now a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania where she already set the program-record low rounds for 18, 36 and 54 holes as the individual medalist and has made the lineup for every tournament so far, before the season was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Her path to success at the collegiate level was a long and winding journey, but one that shaped her into the person she is today. Xiao started playing competitive golf in China when she was 7 years-old and things clicked almost instantly.
Not only did I feel passionate about playing golf, but my parents and coach also found that I had tremendous talent in this sport. I was able to learn so much quicker than other children my age and was basically able to swing the club and make contact with the ball within the first few lessons. I think from then on, my parents thought that maybe going down the golf path is something that I should try.
Xiao remembers her first AJGA event in 2015 and the pressure she felt to meet the expectations that came with her first non-local Canadian event appearance. She was on the alternate list for the Bishops Gate Golf Academy Junior at Centennial while spending the summer in China. She got an email she earned a spot in the tournament and flew straight to the U.S. from China, instead of going home to Canada, to compete in the event.
"I remember I was extremely jet-lagged and Oregon was so hot at that time," Xiao said. "I didn’t put too much pressure on myself, I knew that this was a valuable experience for me. It could have been that first step forward towards my junior golf career outside of Canada or it could have been the first and last AJGA event I will ever play in. I didn’t think too much about it and treated the event as more of a learning experience."
Xiao finished inside the top 10 and went on to compete in 18 events over the next five years. She won the 2017 Under Armour® Canadian Championship and had seven other top-seven finishes with five appearances in Invitationals. She was also the Gateway City Grant recipient representing for Vancouver at the 2018 ANA Junior Inspiration.
In 2018, Xiao moved from Canada to Florida to continue her preparation for the next level at the Gary Gilchrist Golf Academy (GGGA) in Howey-In-The-Hills, Florida. It was there that she was thrown in to an environment living with a group of friends who share similar interests and goals to help her grow as a person and prepare myself for college, surrounded by a team of supportive and trustworthy coaches and staff members.
"The AJGA and GGGA are two very important organizations that have helped me tremendously throughout my junior golf career," Xiao said. "First, without the AJGA I wouldn’t have had the chance to play in so many events around the nation to show who I am as a golfer not only to college coaches but also myself. My experience at GGGA was great preparation for college. I took time to learn more about myself, my interests, motivations, and my weaknesses."
A lot comes along with balancing competing in AJGA events, moving to Florida to attend the GGGA and navigating the college recruiting process, although she kept the same mindset and always stayed true to her love for golf and all it has given her.
I wish I could’ve told myself to always remember your passion for golf because that’s why you started playing and be ready to accept the challenges that are to come. Ups and downs in life are inevitable. Only through experiencing difficult times can we see the beauty in life. If life is always good and nothing bad ever happens, then even the good times will seem normal and there will be no surprises in life. Remembering why you started playing golf and what attracted you to this sport in the first place can really help you get through the tough times.