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COTO DE CAZA — Santa Margarita golfer Leigh Chien draws inspiration from several sources, but one causes the focused and driven competitor to lighten her mood and enjoy a few laughs.
“Food is a huge motivator,” she said before a recent practice at her home course at Coto de Caza Golf and Racquet Club.
Chien excitedly shared how she and her teammates celebrated the Eagles’ CIF State championship last fall with a meal at Ding Tai Fung, a popular Chinese restaurant at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.
“It’s our favorite,” she said. “If I were to choose one, it would be the spicy Wontons.”
Chien, 17, is often busy working up her appetite on the golf course. The former Orange County player of the year departs Thursday for a roughly two-week trip to represent the United States at the Junior Solheim Cup in Spain and Junior Ryder Cup in Italy.
The Junior Solheim Cup is Sept. 18-19 with the Junior Ryder Cup to follow Sept. 26-28 in Rome.
Chien’s enthusiasm for the tournaments is easy to spot. One of her clubs at practice this week was adorned by a USA-colored headcover.
“I’m really excited,” she said. “It’s my first time out in Europe and I get to represent the USA as well, which is another plus. I also get to meet a lot of LPGA players, and watch them. It’s going to be a really good experience for me.”
Chien qualified for the Junior Solheim Cup based on her Golfweek/Sagarin junior rankings. The Stanford committed senior was ranked 12th nationally at the time of her selection in late July and now sits at No. 11.
“She’s pretty special,” Santa Margarita coach Jill Hegna recently said of Chien, who claimed the CIF State title as a sophomore at University and the CIF SoCal regional crown last season.
Chien’s parents Wayne and Jane credit their daughter’s success to her dedication on and off the course.
The Irvine resident trains privately with Bob Lasken, the veteran, director of instruction at Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club who has mentored many up-and-coming players.
Chien also trains for strength and club speed at Urban Golf Performance in Costa Mesa.
In the classroom, she maintains a 4.3 grade-point average and takes three AP classes, including Chinese. She speaks Chinese conversationally at home.
“She knows what she wants, so she is working independently to reach that goal,” Wayne said of his daughter, who reached the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior Championship in July.
Jane believes her daughter’s mental approach to golf is part of the equation, too.
“(She) accepts failures and (is) not afraid of one,” she said. “(She) gets back up and keeps going.”
Chien’s goal to play professionally.
She knows professional players such as Lilia Vu, the former Fountain Valley standout, and tour rookie Rose Zhang of Irvine. Chien counts Vu, a two-time major champion, as one of her mentors.
“The pros motivate me,” Chien said. “I really like to see myself on the LPGA some day, and just competing with them.”
The thirst for competition traces back to Chien’s grandfather Joseph. He took Chien, at age 5, and her older brother Evan to practice golf after school. Evan, 20, went on to play golf at Sage Hill and UCLA, and has served as his sister’s caddie.
The introduction to the sport led to competitive tournaments, which now rank high on Chien’s golf menu.
In Italy, Chien would love to reward her efforts with Team USA with an Italian treat.
“In Italy, I think we will be going to the city,” she said. “Maybe some ice cream.”
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