Wong Leads Oregon Golf To New Heights
By Haley Hirai
Eugene Wong was seven years old, and decided he didn't want to get sunburned on a particularly sunny day at the golf course. He donned his first bucket hat, and came in first place at his tournament.
Now a senior at Oregon, Wong has stuck with the bucket hat, which has become his trademark. Rain or shine, he wears one of the many bucket hats in his collection.
"I love it, because that's who he is," said head coach Casey Martin. "It's great for me because when I watch the players from a distance, I always know which one is Eugene because he looks different with that bucket hat."
Wong has never been one to blend in with the crowd. Golfweek ranked the Vancouver, British Columbia, native as its No. 3 collegiate golfer in the nation, player of the week in October 2011, and 2010 Player of the Year. Golf World named Wong its Player of the Midseason, and he also earned the accolade of October 2011 Pac-12 Golfer of the Month. He has led his team to a No. 2 national ranking and three consecutive tournament wins.
Wong could have turned pro after a disappointing 2010-2011 season, but instead decided to stay at Oregon to prove himself on the golf course while earning his degree in general social science.
"We went from almost losing a player you can't really replace to suddenly having one of the top players in the nation," said Martin. "You can't replace that. The attitude was of excitement and expectation that we could have a really great year."
Oregon's season has lived up to the team's high hopes, with three consecutive wins at the St. Mary's Invitational, The Prestige, and the Alister MacKenzie Invitational in the fall. It was the first time that an Oregon golf team had accomplished the feat in the history of the program, and is the proudest moment of Wong's collegiate career.
Wong fell in love with the game of golf when his dad took him to a driving range 15 minutes away from their Vancouver home. He took full advantage of an all-you-can-hit deal with his little plastic golf clubs.
"I love the game of golf because it's for anyone. Anyone can play," Wong said. "It doesn't matter if you're an 80 year old, or a 50 year old, or if you're good or bad. That's why I fell in love with the game."
With his father from Hong Kong and his mother from Fiji, Wong enjoyed growing up in the multicultural Vancouver area. His parents come to watch his tournaments whenever he is within a drivable distance, such as when he plays in Washington.
Since Eugene Wong now lives in Eugene, Ore., he is known to his teammates simply as "Eug."
Wong said he will "never give up" on his dreams of winning a national championship and joining the PGA Tour.
And when he does, he'll probably be wearing a bucket hat.
Photo Courtesy: Geoff Thurner