Aug. 28, 2010
By Jon Cooper
It’s amazing what can happen when a kid meets his idol.
Georgia Tech junior golfer Minghao Wang got that opportunity as a 12-year-old back in 2000, when the native of Shenzhan, China, met his idol, Tiger Woods.
Wang had just won the club championship at Mission Hills Golf Academy, one of the most influential country clubs China (coincidentally, his father, Wentao, is the longtime course manager). With the championship came the perk of getting to play five holes with Woods, then the world’s No. 1 player.
Those five holes changed everything.
“That was a really unique experience,” said Wang. “I was really inspired by Tiger. Just watching him play on that stage, was something that really inspired me. I decided from that day that I was going to keep working hard and hopefully one day be a professional player just like Tiger.”
Wang, who remembers following his dad around the golf course as a little child and who picked up clubs around age 11, currently ranks fifth on the Chinese National Team, upon which he’s been since age 13, and is hoping to continue his ascension in Division I play.
That ascension took a step forward in high school, after his family moved to Florida — his dad, who caddies for him during summer tournaments, still shuttles back and forth between their home in Florida and China, while his mom lives primarily in Florida. In 2005, Wang won the Florida High School State Individual Championship and led his school, Celebration Academy, to a second-place finish.
When the time came to attend college, the choice was an easy one.
“Georgia Tech has always been one of the greatest academic schools and they have an excellent golf programs in the country,” he said. “I was being recruited by [Georgia Tech Golf] Coach [Bruce Heppler]. I took a visit to Georgia Tech and I thought, ‘This is the program I want to be in.’ So here I am.”
After playing five events as a freshman, Wang took something of a step back as a sophomore, undercut by a strained wrist that limited him to two matches.
“I know he spent a lot of time rehabbing,” said Heppler. “He couldn’t take full swings. He spent a lot of time chipping with one hand and putting with one hand. I think Ming feels good about where he is, I think he feels like he is all the way back from his injury.”
“My injury prevented a lot of range of motion in my swing,” Wang said. “That’s why I couldn’t really swing a golf club when I hurt my wrist. It was really tough to hit.”
“It’s feeling really good (now),” he added. “Coach (Jay) Shoop, our head (trainer), has really taken care of me and everything’s back to 100 percent. I’m back to 100 percent.”
Wang showed that during the summer, which he spent playing with the Chinese National Team. Heppler hopes Wang will carry that momentum into Tech’s season and show a little more consistency now that he’s healthy.
“Ming has wonderful fundamentals,” said Heppler. “If he learns some things around the greens and how to improve some of that stuff we believe that he can be a major contributor at some point. Obviously, sooner better than later would make me happy.”
Wang showed his desire to contribute to Heppler’s program last winter, when he chose to stay in Atlanta rather than travel to China, to play in the Asian Games, where he had the potential to play in the Masters and possibly again play with his idol.
That decision impressed Heppler.
“Ming made a very mature decision,” he said. “He came to me and said he’d decided to stay and take care of his academics so that he could help us in the spring rather than go over there. That’s a pretty hard thing to do, to turn down a chance to play the Masters when you have home-course advantage. But Ming is very committed to his degree and to Georgia Tech. I thought that said a lot about him. He’s been a great team player and wonderful about maintaining his obligations to the team and to the school.”
Wang would like to leave a greater, more lasting impression to the school’s legacy.
“All of us are very inspired by the photos that you see hanging around here in the halls [of the Dellinger Golf Center], the All-Americans,” he said. “It’s really motivating all of us to work really hard and try to be like one of them and get our photo on the walls.”