The Test of Time
May 6, 2008
by Jeff Smith
Michigan's Min Yean Tan finally has a chance to slow down a little. After completing her whirlwind freshman year in Ann Arbor, Tan has returned to her homeland of Penang Island, Malaysia for a two-month stretch that will certainly involve doing things on her own time.
This past year, Tan was quick to learn just how quick the pace is in the United States and just how important time management is for a student-athlete. There were classes, golf and practices - all things she had been accustomed to for years - but only this time it was all structured and there was always a place to be.
"My first year was a roller coaster," said Tan. "It was tough to balance academics and golf. A lot of my schoolwork was online and I have never been a technologically adept person. Then when I had to miss classes for golf, I found it tough to keep up. The professors accommodated, but they kept moving on."
Prior to coming to Ann Arbor, Tan took an interesting path to gain the attention of major college coaches. In her homeland of Malaysia, Tan says she grew up in a strict environment that was almost entirely focused on academics. And we say strict, we are talking about spending half the day in middle school focused on mastering 10 subjects.
"It was very intense," she said. "It was either school or sports in Malaysia."
That meant there was simply no time for golf.
At the age of 15, when Tan was entering the 10th grade, her parents moved her to Queensland, Australia and enrolled her in Hills International College. It was there she began learning how to balance school and sports, while learning the English language as well.
She moved in with a home family, which spoke, read, and wrote in English and had a daughter that played golf. For Tan, it was a perfect fit.
But it was also a casual one as well. Life in the Outback was slow and laidback, according to Tan.
When it came time to look into attending college in the United States, Tan became interested in Michigan after hearing about its high academic standards from friends. She sent her golf resume to head coach Kathy Teichert and kept her contact with her throughout the process.
When Teichert was attending the Junior World Golf Championship at Torrey Pines outside of San Diego, she noticed that Tan was on the entry list. After watching her throughout the week, Teichert made an effort to meet with Tan and her parents to discuss playing at Michigan.
"From there we kept in contact and she came in for a fall visit," Teichert said. "We wanted to make sure she would be a good fit for this golf team and we would be a good fit for her."
Tan was convinced Michigan was the school for her. What she did not know, however, was just how different life would be.
"Things are far more competitive here than they are in Australia or Malaysia," Tan said. "Here you are always on the clock and constantly being measured by something. It seems like we have quizzes or exams every week, there's a focus on GPA, and in even working out in the gym, it's how much you can lift."
If that is accurate, Tan passed her first season with honors. She earned U-M Athletic Academic Achievement status studying sports management during the year and would like to explore the school's business program as well. On the course, she experienced equal success. At the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago, Tan concluded her first year by posting a 72-hole score of 305 (74-75-77-79) - the lowest score by a freshman in school history. She tied for 19th in the event, which was her best outing of the year. Her 77.62 scoring average was the third lowest on the team.
Teichert is quick to point out Tan's improvement from the fall season, noting that she headed into the winter with a 79.07 scoring average.
"I thought she came into the program in the fall and didn't play as well as she wanted," Teichert said. "Certainly a lot of that has to do with the adjustment she had to make from being far from home and getting used to the American culture."
Tan agrees, but says the one thing that seemed to come easy for her was fitting in with her team.
"You automatically had girls around you who shared the same dreams and passion that you did," she said. "Being around a group of girls like that made the transition much easier."
Still, time, and keeping track of it, was still a factor for her.
Teichert shares stories about a common occurrence with Tan when the team was at tournaments this past season. The Wolverine coach says the golfers always had their own warm-up routine within the structured schedule of the team. Some would hit balls first and then putt; some would do the opposite. But it came to get back together and head to the tee, Tan would often hard to find.
"It was always like where is Min Yean? She'd always be running in from somewhere," Teichert said. "And she would always be a little flustered and her mind was all over the board. I just think she had a hard time adapting to the go-go-go pace we have here. Things have a tendency to develop slower in Malaysia and Australia."
Teichert said Tan also spent most of the season understanding exactly what the Big Ten and the NCAA was. At one point in the season her freshman asked what it meant to earn All-Big Ten honors and if the next step was to play All-Conference golfers from other leagues. The Wolverine mentor laughs in good fun when she tells the story, knowing that Tan is trying hard to grasp all things college golf as quick as she can.
One thing that Teichert says has seemed to translate in Tan's game from Malaysia to Australia to Michigan is her sportsmanship.
"She has been a great ambassador for the game and a pleasant young lady to be around," Teichert said. "What I find is different from Min Yean and all the other competitors, is that she will clap for them after a good shot. I just don't see that out of other competitive players or teams."
For Tan, it's something that she has always done and certainly a gesture that doesn't take much time in doing.
Thankfully, Tan will have plenty of time this summer to wind down after a hectic and eye-opening freshman season. She made the two-day, Ann Arbor-Chicago-Tokyo-Singapore-Malaysia jaunt back home this past week and will now have to re-adjust to a new environment. With a 12-hour time difference, Tan might find herself in the same predicament she was in when she first traveled to Michigan.
"The first week I was at school, I slept all afternoon and then was wide awake, walking around at two or three in the morning," she said.
Regardless of when she gets back on a normal schedule, it's safe to say when Tan reminisces on her first year in college, she'll have a new outlook on time.
And realize just how much of a great one she had at Michigan this past year.