Everything’s Coming Up Ivy For Tiffany Kong And Angela Zhang

Young Vancouver Golfers Tiffany Kong (L) And Angela Zhang (R) Are Heading To Princeton University And Dartmouth College To Play Golf And Study This Fall - Image Credit Bryan Outram/BC Golf

By Brad Ziemer, British Columbia Golf

Tiffany Kong and Angela Zhang aren’t just good golfers, they are also excellent students and that combination has the two Vancouver friends heading to the Ivy League.

Kong is off to Princeton University in New Jersey this fall, while Zhang is bound for Dartmouth College in New Hampshire. Both are beyond excited about what lies ahead and delighted they will be seeing one another on the course as they begin the next phase of their lives.

“Yeah, I am starting to get really excited especially because I am filling out lots of forms and stuff getting ready for Princeton,” says the 18-year-old Kong. “It’s setting in that I am actually going to be moving to the east coast away from Vancouver for four years. I am a little bit nervous because it is something completely new, but I am so excited.”

The 17-year-old Zhang, who earlier this month won the B.C. Junior Girls Championship, says she and Kong have talked about how cool it will be that they will occasionally compete against one another in college. “Oh yeah, we have shared our tears, we have shared our excitement,” Zhang says. “It’s been really fun.”

Zhang recently graduated from York House School, while Kong just finished high school at David Thompson Secondary. Both decided they wanted to play collegiate golf, but they also wanted a great academic challenge. Kong, who along with Zhang finished tied for third at last summer’s Canadian Junior Girls Championship, zeroed in on Princeton.

image credit Kris Jonasson/BC Golf

Angela Zhang Holds The Trophy After Winning The 2019 BC Junior Girls Championship At Fairwinds GC In Nanoose Bay 

She has a cousin, Annie Kong from California, who plays on the Princeton golf team and she helped put Tiffany in touch with coach Erika DeSanty. “When I first started actually looking at universities back in Grade 9 and 10, I was interested in an academic school as well as a golf school, but I wasn’t really focused on the Ivy League specifically,” says Kong, who was low Canadian at last summer’s Canadian Women’s Amateur Championship.

“But because my cousin was at Princeton on the golf team, she was telling me how great it is and I had a chance to go for it. So I decided, okay, Princeton might be a choice, but I have to work hard on my academics. It just sort of went from there. I visited the campus and it was super nice. I really liked the team and the coach and everything about it. So I decided Princeton was my first choice.”

Zhang had a similar experience, although she visited other Ivy League schools before focusing on Dartmouth, which is located in Hanover, N.H., about two hours from Boston. “I started emailing the coach I would say, end of Grade 10, beginning of Grade 11,” Zhang says. “There were some email exchanges and then last year about this time we talked on the phone. He saw my tournament scores, he saw me play and then he was interested. I went there for an official visit and the rest is history.”

The Ivy League is an athletic conference comprising sports teams from eight private universities in the northeast United States. Renowned for academic excellence, the Ivy League schools include Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Yale, Columbia and Cornell.

image credit Bryan Outram/BC Golf

Zhang (L) And Kong (R) Finished T3 In The Canadian Junior Girls Championship At Beach Grove GC In Tsawwassen Last Summer

Dartmouth’s small size and intimate feel -- it has a student population of just over 6,000 -- helped draw Zhang to the school. During her official visit early last fall, Zhang toured the campus with Kristen Chen, who was then a freshman with the golf team. “She was from the west coast, California, and you wouldn’t expect someone like that would have any network two weeks in,” Zhang says.

“We walked from her dorm to the cafeteria, which is literally a five-minute walk, and we were greeted by, I think, like 10 people who were super friendly, knew her by name and tried to encourage me to come. It was completely different from when I went to some of the other schools. Nobody knew each other, nobody really said hi. So immediately, I really liked that part of the school.”

Their respective coaches are delighted to have them join their school. DeSanty, who is heading into her sixth year as Princeton coach, was immediately impressed when she saw Kong play. “Obviously, she is an incredibly talented player.” DeSanty says. “She showed some interest early on in Princeton. I can’t remember the exact tournament I first saw her play, but the point is when I saw her play she has this really fun-loving personality, so I loved to watch the joy with which she was playing.

"And while she seems to have a ton of fun playing the course, she also has this extra motor of competition. It is clear she loves to win. It was a combination of this competitive fire that was really clear and this fun-loving energy she exudes on the course. For me, those two combinations are a player I want to coach for four years. I think she is somebody who can help bring us to the next level.” DeSanty also joked about having Kong’s cousin on her team. “Annie is going to be a senior on the team this year, so I am going to have a senior Kong and freshman Kong,” she says.

image credit Bryan Outram/BC Golf

Angela Zhang Tees Off On The 18th At Seymour G&CC In USGA Women's Am Qualifying

Dartmouth coach Alex Kirk is equally excited about adding Zhang to his team, which is coming off a best-ever second-place finish in the Ivy League Championship. “I think one, she is a very intelligent young woman to start with,” Kirk says of Zhang.

“With the Ivy League it is obviously a blend of academics and golf and I would say she is on the high side of academics. She is above average among the smart kids. Then you start focusing on the golf results. I talked to her swing coach, Rob Houlding, and was very impressed with his program and how he develops players.”

Kirk said he also likes the fact Zhang comes from Canada, noting that the New Hampshire winters require lots of indoor practice. “We hit a lot of balls on simulators,” Kirk says. “She is from a northern, colder climate and I think that is an advantage, rather than getting a girl from Florida or California and they wonder what is going on with the snow and they don’t know what a frost-delay is.”

Kong and Zhang both know the time-management skills they learned as junior golfers will be put to a supreme test as they head to colleges where grade-point averages are just as important as stroke averages. “Well, I try to keep a positive mind about trying to keep up my grades as well as doing well on the golf team,” Kong says.

“I know that will be a really hard thing to achieve, especially when it’s first year and a completely new setting and being so far away from home away from my parents and all by myself. It will definitely be hard, but I think I will be able to manage. Everyone says manage your time wisely and allocate what time is for what. And also relax and have fun. We will have a big support system there.” Kong has not declared a major, but is interested in Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs and Public Policy.

image credit British Columbia Golf file photo

Tiffany Kong Counts On Her Resume Qualifying For The 2015 CP Canadian Women's Open When She Was Just 14-Years Old

Zhang is leaning toward specializing in brain sciences. “Maybe psychology, but at the same time I also really love political science, so we’ll see where that goes,” she says. Zhang is confident she can balance academics with her golf. "I think I’ll be okay,” she says.

“In high school I put myself in a position where I have already trained myself to be able to balance academics and sports pretty well. I think most teachers and students at my school don’t even know that I golf competitively. They just assume that if you have good academics you probably spend 110 per cent of your time on that. The reality is between car rides, between getting on airplanes, I was going through essays, I was reading through novels. This is what I am used to now. I don’t think it will be much of a challenge for me.”

Kong and Zhang are spending what remains of summer working hard on their games. Both are eager to make an impact as freshmen. And both have an early tournament circled on their calendar.

The Princeton Invitational begins on Sept. 28 and Dartmouth is in the field. Kong and Zhang hope they will both be on their team’s playing roster that week, can exchange hugs on the first tee and take a moment to reflect on where their incredible golf journey has taken them.