Jesse Yap swings away
Golf requires consistency and mental toughness. Jesse Yap, a member of the Cal Poly men’s golf team, has come to epitomize both of those qualities on and off the course.
Born in Alabama and raised in Singapore, Yap committed to compulsory military training right out of high school and currently sports a 4.0 GPA in the College of Engineering.
A vital member of this year’s squad, Yap sits second on the team in scoring average (72.9) and was key in the program’s first win in nearly three years earlier this month. His success this season is the culmination of a process that has taken place on two different continents and included a recent swing change to boot.
But for the industrial engineering junior, who redshirted his freshman year, not too much has changed since he first picked up a club. Yap’s unassuming demeanor can be traced back to his introduction to golf. There is no dramatic recollection of his first time playing; Yap simply took up the sport to kill time after classes.
“When I was in primary 4 [roughly 10 years old; Singapore is on the British education system] I had to choose an extracurricular activity,” Yap said. “My mom told me to pick something that isn’t on Saturday because she told me ‘I don’t want to drive you to school on Saturday.’”
“I chose golf because it was on Wednesday,” he said. “No one in my family had played before, so I started practicing by hitting tennis balls to a fence and back.”
He kept with his after-school practice and entered in local tournaments, posting scores that were good enough to compete at the collegiate level. While mostly made up of private country clubs, Singapore has an active golf community with more than 30 courses in a country that’s roughly half the size of Los Angeles.
By the time Yap completed the American equivalent of high school, he had his sights set on playing golf collegiately at an academically rigorous school. There was just one thing he had to get out of the way first: a mandatory stint in Singapore’s military.
Every able-bodied man in Singapore must complete at least 22 months of service in the country’s military. Yap spent first two months in basic training, then moved onto officer cadet school for the next nine months.
“You get used to waking up at 5:30 and not having as much freedom,” Yap said. “It was tough, there were definitely a lot of times where you question why you have to do this because it is not like you signed up for it.”
“But over time I came to appreciate it and what I was going through. I think it served me well and helped me to become more independent away from my family.”
While in the military, Yap started to search for schools where he could play golf and receive a first-rate engineering education. Cal Poly came up on his radar, and he connected with head coach Scott Cartwright.
“He contacted me and I gave him what our parameters were to be able to play and he had some pretty good scores,” Cartwright said. “I told him that when he gets out of the military we would love to have (him) on the team.”
Since coming to Cal Poly, Jesse has experienced the ups and downs that are common in golf. After redshirting during his first year in San Luis Obispo, Yap played his first collegiate season last year as a 22-year-old freshman. A tie for fifth place at the El Macero Classic highlighted his year, but his scoring average stood at an underwhelming 74.6 in limited action.
Midway through that first season, Yap made a small change in his swing. As is often the case for golfers, that miniscule alteration led to a world of difference.
“My teammates and I joke about it now. I started at address and then brought the club up 90 degrees and then started my swing,” Yap said. “When I started to go away from that, I started to play better.”
Without the slight pre-shot movement this season, Yap has emerged as one of the most impressive performers on the squad. His four top-20 finishes in a total of six tournaments played puts him just behind Justin De Los Santos (last year’s Big West Conference Championship winner) on the team’s depth chart.
As it turns out, Yap and De Los Santos have built up quite the rapport in the last couple years. The two were roommates and Yap even spent a weekend caddying for De Los Santos while he played in last year’s Straight Down Championship with Cal Poly alumnus Loren Roberts.
“I saw him improve his game over the season. He was struggling in the beginning of the year, but then he started to get it together. I always thought his swing was pretty consistent but it wasn’t fully put together yet,” De Los Santos said. “Toward the end of last year he really started compacting his swing and his ball striking just got a lot better and he just built off that confidence. Jesse started off good this year so it has been going really well for him.”
One area that has never needed improvement is Yap’s studies. Achieving a 4.0 GPA is very difficult at Cal Poly, perhaps especially so in the nationally-renowned College of Engineering. To do so while juggling the added responsibilities of being a Division I student-athlete is almost incomprehensible. Certainly, some of the credit must be attributed to the discipline and time management imparted on Yap in the military.
“When we are driving in the van to tournaments for five hours, he is the one in the back with the laptop studying while everyone else is sleeping” Cartwright said. “Jesse is a quiet leader. He is older, so he is more mature, he has some different life experiences than some of our guys from the states.”