The Next Phenom

Lorens Chan, 14, qualifies for next week’s Sony Open and continues the tradition of local prodigies sharing the big stage at Waialae Country Club with stars of the PGA Tour. As for the future, says the personable teen: ‘College’

Lorens Chan also knows how to have fun on the golf course, such as sharing a laugh with mom Linda

After just missing a year ago, 14-year-old Lorens Chan qualifies for next week’s Sony Open and continues the tradition of superlative local teens teeing it up with PGA Tour pros

Since its inception, the Sony Open - and the Hawaiian Open before that - has provided a warm welcome to a snowbound nation of golfers awaiting spring’s thawing rescue of their favorite course from the grip of winter. In recent years, it also has been a coming-out party for talented teens ready to burst onto the international stage.

From Ty Tryon to Michelle Wie to Tadd Fujikawa, the Sony has opened the eyes of fans and sponsors looking for the sport’s next big name, or at least interesting subjects around whom to create story lines.

This year, 14-year-old Lorens Chan gets his shot at joining the ranks of the newly famous while highlighting the skill of yet another young ball-striker.

Able to intensely focus

Not that trying to match the notoriety of his predecessors is much on the mind of the Iolani freshman.

“I really don’t try to think about that. We all know Michelle played, and Tadd was the youngest to make the cut, but I don’t think about that,” he told MidWeek after a recent practice round at Waialae Country Club.

“I just try to go out there and play my own game. I don’t try to make it any more stressful a game than it already is.I’m already playing with the pros and that’s pretty tough enough. I don’t need to make it any harder on me.”

On Dec. 29, Chan got into the tournament by shooting 67 at Waialae in the amateur qualifier, then sinking a 6-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole to beat Manoa Cup champ Travis Toyama and Alex Ching.Watching the winning putt drop was a particularly pleasant relief, since a year earlier he lost the opportunity by a one-stroke margin in another three-way playoff.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had that kind of pressure in my life,” he says. “I think it was more of a relief that it was over. I was really focused, and there was a lot of pressure and I was really nervous. When I made the putt on the playoff hole, I was relieved that I made it and that we didn’t have to go on to the next playoff hole.”

That putt, by the way, gave him three birdies in his final five holes.

Of his celebrated teen predecessors at the Sony, Chan is more similar to Fujikawa than to Wie, who burst upon the scene in 2003 on her way to a multimillion-dollar career. The connection is greater than their Y chromosomes.

Even as a Punahou freshman, Wie was an interesting combination of youthful innocence and practiced celebrity. Chan, like his Moanalua counterpart, is much more of a free spirit who plays the game with a carefree approach and infectious smile that is as refreshing as it is inviting. Watching him work his way around Waialae, one can’t help feeling that golf, while a big part of his young life, remains an intense hobby instead of the sole focus of life and the only road to financial stability. His practice schedule of about 15 hours a week - which includes a full round on Sundays - is rather pedestrian for top-level talent, and likely goes a long way in helping him maintain the difficult balance of golf and school. It could also help him avoid the burnout that has ruined the career of talented young athletes in golf and other sports.

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