Golf captain talks Tiger Woods and holes-in-one

This article is part of a running series The Daily sports staff will be publishing on seniors.

As a current Stanford men’s golf team captain originally hailing from New York City, Ethan Lawrence Ng believes that this week’s NCAA championships could be the team’s year to take the dub, which the Cardinal last won Ng’s freshman year in 2019. With a scoring average of 72.68, Ng recently posted his career-best at Regionals, securing a fourth-place finish with an 18-under 198. He led the team to its school best of 57-under, breaking the 2006 record of 42-under. Ng also excels in the classroom and made the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll in 2020, 2021 and 2022. By his friends, Ng is known for his constant toothy grin, loose-clothed style and laid-back attitude. The Daily’s Annie Reller sat down with Ng to reflect on his time at Stanford.

The Stanford Daily (TSD): Ethan, thank you so much for this interview. My first question is pretty simple: How many hole-in-ones have you had in your life?

Ethan Ng (EN): Three hole-in-ones, but most notably, I had a hole-in-one the same day Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters. Tiger Woods is my golf hero, I admire his golf achievements. I also had a hole-in-one this year; it’s on the Stanford golf Instagram.

TSD: At what age did you realize that you were actually good?

EN: I’ve never realized (laughs). Probably when I was around six or seven. The story allegedly goes, when I was around three or four, my dad took me out one weekend when my mom couldn’t take care of me, to the golf course to hang with him and his boys. And I just fell in love with the game. And I would ask him  every weekend if I could go with him, and he’d begrudgingly say okay. I’d just get out there and whack balls. And I really liked it, and then he bought me my own set of clubs and it snowballed from there.

TSD: How old were you when you hit a zero handicap?

EN: I don’t know when I became a scratch golfer, probably eight or nine. But there’s a notable story there; my dad used to play golf all the time. And then when I was literally eight or nine years old, I still have the scorecard, I beat him straight up. And he had played the best round he’s ever played in his life. And then he quit and started coaching me from there.

TSD: So why did you trust a coach who is worse than you?

EN: That is a great question. Oh, he’s my dad. So of course I’m going to trust him.

TSD: As a kid, how much was golf in your life?

EN: Not a lot of D1 golfers come out from New York. I can only think of one other kid, in a really good school, who comes from New York City. Most kids were golfing every day. I grew up just playing on the weekends, they call that a weekend warrior. And then over the summers I tried to golf every day with my dad. But on weekdays, I was the varsity captain of the swim team. Although golf was a big part of my life, it only took up a little bit of time.

 TSD: And how old were you when you started getting recruited?

EN: That’s a good question. I got my first offer, a full scholarship, from Wisconsin when I was 12 years old. I was in sixth grade.

TSD: Who are your biggest supporters?

EN: My family, and my girlfriend, Nicole. My dad especially has been my biggest supporter. Everything comes around to my dad. For the record, I credit everything to my dad. He got me into the game of golf. He’s paid for every set of my clubs. He’s driven me across the country to tournaments. He flies across the country to come watch me play. He’s my number one supporter.

TSD: So why did you pick Stanford?

EN: Stanford was always the dream school, obviously. My dad used to play this Tiger Woods documentary when I was really young, and Tiger went to Stanford. And I always was like, wow, I want to go to that school because he went there, and he’s the best golfer of all time. Also, I wanted to go to Stanford because I knew it was a really good school. And that’s my mom, academics. The importance of academics comes from my mom.

TSD: What does it feel like to represent Stanford? Do you identify as a representative?

EN: Every time we leave campus, I feel that. It is the biggest honor. I would say these past four, four and a half years, have been the biggest honor of my life. And I’m very proud to wear the “S” on my shirt whenever we go out and compete. It’s always been my dream to come here and it’s exceeded every expectation I could have had to play for the school and be here.

TSD: How do your friendships at Stanford vary with non-athletes versus athletes?

EN: Coming into Stanford, I was very anxious about making friends and whatnot. But being on a team here, you have a built-in friend group. Everyone on the golf team are my best friends, my brothers. But outside of golf, a lot from my freshman dorm, those are some of my friends that I’ve had forever. My girlfriend, all her friends are my friends now. But yeah, it’s hard to balance social time and golf. It’s just all about time management. It’s something that I’m still working on.

TSD: What was it like being captain of the men’s golf team this year?

EN: It’s easy when you have such a good group of guys. It’s really easy to make sure everyone’s in line and it doesn’t feel like an obligation at all. We’re out there really enjoying being ourselves with each other and just being friends, so it doesn’t feel like there’s a huge hierarchy of leadership. It just feels organic, which is nice.

TSD: Is the team competitive within itself? Are you trying to beat the other people on your team?

EN: Yeah, absolutely. College golf is interesting, because golf obviously is very individualized. But there’s a team component and obviously the team matters more. In qualifying for every tournament, we have three or four qualifying rounds to determine what the lineup is for the actual tournament, and it gets really competitive. Since everyone is of high caliber and can play really well, scores get really low. Obviously there are heated moments when coaches make decisions to take a player over a different player. But all in all, we always know we’re playing for the team. So although it’s competitive, and we want to beat each other, there’s never any animosity.

TSD: Do you have any tournament rituals or superstitions?

EN: Before every round, I try to do a few minutes of meditation, visualize my first hole. I get very nervous before so I just try to calm myself down. I also don’t take articles of clothing off, even if it’s hot. I’ll keep it on, because taking off a layer will make my swing feel different. If I’m playing well with a certain ball, I won’t change balls. I’ll always have my ball marker the same side up if I’m putting well, facing the same direction.

TSD: Do you talk smack to other players on the course? Is there that type of competition, or because it’s a respectful sport, is there less of that?

EN: Well, with college golf, you grew up playing against everyone else in Junior Golf. It’s a pretty small community. All my teammates, I’ve known them for a while. Especially if you’re going to a power five school, those are big names.

TSD: Who are interesting people that you’ve gotten to meet through the sport?

EN: There are a lot of cool people that practice at our facility, so we rub shoulders and we get to pick their brain every once in a while. We were invited to the White House in 2020 after we won the 2019 championship and got to meet Dianne Feinstein and Trump. There was a lot of controversy around that, but I wasn’t gonna pass up an opportunity to go to the White House. I’m not the biggest fan of Donald Trump. So when I met him, I tickled his wrist in a small act of rebellion. 

TSD: What does it feel like to be a person of color in a predominantly white sport? 

EN: Oh, that’s an interesting question. Although golf is a very white sport, there are so many Asians that play golf, that I almost don’t feel like a minority. But I think the bigger issue I have with golf is the culture surrounding golf, it’s very dominated by white people, the rich and elite. There’s a lot of entitlement that comes with golf culture, and that bugs me, but also, I’ve made some of my best friends through golf. And I think golf has brought me to places that I’d never thought were imaginable. So I would never give it up.

TSD: Okay, so what is next for you? And how do you feel about graduating?

EN: I’m really, really sad to be leaving the golf team as a player. It has been the biggest honor and privilege of my life. I couldn’t imagine a better experience. But I am excited to come back as potentially the graduate assistant coach and finish my Master’s and be able to spend one more year on campus.

TSD: You have a big thing ahead of you soon. How do you feel about the upcoming tournament, NCAA Nationals?

EN: We feel really good. I personally am coming off my career best finish at regionals, I shot 18-under, fourth place. But the team is feeling really good. We got a lot of confidence going in and we really feel we can win this year.