Jason Li looks to next golf season after great first year

Credit: Courtesy of CMU Athletics Credit: Courtesy of CMU Athletics

When Jason Li was five years old, his parents took up golf, but also decided to take him and his brother along with them in lieu of hiring a babysitter. Li picked up one of the kids clubs and has never looked back.

A first-year Business Administration major at Carnegie Mellon University and member of the men’s golf team, Li was recently named the University Athletic Association (UAA) Rookie of the Year, as well as a first-team selection, voted by the association coaches. In his first season as a Tartan, Li averaged a team-best round of 73.9 through 15 rounds and finished a season-low round of 70 four different times.

Li grew up in Cranberry, PA, about 30 minutes north of Pittsburgh. For him, golf started as a family activity. As he continued to play and continued to improve, golf became something more.

“Growing up, it was always just playing with my family,” Li said in an interview with The Tartan. “As I continued to play, people started suggesting to my parents that I should try to compete in junior tournaments in the area. Once I got started in competing, I really started to enjoy being out there and playing and competing, just always trying to get better.”

Li played throughout his childhood and high school. When it came to playing in college, it wasn’t much of a decision of whether or not to continue.

“I just got so invested [in golf] it was hard to see myself not playing in college,” he said. “It’s such a big part of who I was in high school and who I was as a person. I just love being out on the golf course. Even if it’s not competitive, even if I’m just playing with my family, it’s a lot of fun to be out there.”

Li’s decision was focused on where he would play in college, rather than if he would play golf in college. He wanted the opportunity to play golf, but more importantly, was looking at the best schools for him.

“My older brother actually just graduated from [Carnegie Mellon], so combine that with being so close to home — [being] very familiar with the campus. Just the high level academics really drew me here, because academics always came first in my family, so that was the first consideration. I decided to come here for the academics, and as a bonus was able to play golf.”

Being close to home helped Li with the transition from high school to college. If he ever felt homesick, or wasn’t feeling well, or simply just wanted to go home, he could. If he had an emergency of any kind, he had the comfort of knowing his family was a relatively short drive away.

The transition to being a collegiate student athlete was challenging at first, but something Li learned to balance throughout his first year.

“You kind of have to pick and choose your battles,” he said. “Sometimes you just have to understand that stuff won’t get done or you won’t perform as well as you want to. It’s finding that balance. A lot of times that means on our way to a tournament or in between rounds when we have a break, just doing work.”

Something Li has found unique and fun about playing golf in college is the team aspect of it. Typically, golf is an extremely individual sport where each player is his own team. For tournaments, college teams will enter a group of their five best players to play through each of the rounds, and the four best scores are counted. Teams can also enter single players in an individual competition.

“You’re on the same team with a couple of the guys. Even though you’re out there, doing your own thing during the round, it’s always nice to know during the round or after the round, if you see one of your teammates, they’re always going to support you, they’re always going to try to pick you up. When you’re not having a good day, you know the other guys on the team are doing their best to pick up your slack.”

Spending so much time together on and off the course allows the team to bond and form close friendships, through golf and other activities. Li appreciates that he gets to spend his time with people who are just as passionate about golf as he is, and just as driven to continue to get better every day.

“That’s what’s driven me, up until now — just always trying to get better, always trying to beat myself, beat everybody else, just trying to work my butt off,” Li said.

This year marks 14 years since Li first picked up a golf club, and he is looking forward to his second season as a Tartan, starting in the fall. He hopes for the team to grow and keep improving on the golf course.