T.C. and T.M. may be the best golfers Taiwan has produced since Lu Liang-huan, little "Mr. Lu" of British Open fame. Even though they are grown men who are asked for their autographs on the streets of Taipei and Tokyo, when General Lu speaks, the Chen brothers listen—at least they maintain a respectful silence that passes for listening.
"Sometimes he is tougher than a father," says T.C. of General Lu. "He likes to talk, but he is good to the players. He takes care of everything."
Chen set out on his path to the U.S. Open when he realized there were finer things in life than fiddling with motorcycles. As a young man T.C. liked engines, so when he left school at 14 ("not really interested") he went to work in a Bridgestone motorcycle factory in Taipei for about $110 a month. After a year of "coming home dirty every day," T.C. quit and joined T.M. on the driving range at Linkou International. T.M. was already an established amateur player.
"Every day I just picked up balls," says T.C. "I don't know why I liked golf." After six months of stoop labor, T.C. decided to become a golfer.
"When I was a little kid, after school I came to the golf course every day and watched. I didn't know anything about golf, only read about superstars like Nicklaus and Trevino, those who were in the papers every day. Mr. Lu had finished second at the British Open, so at the time he was very famous. I was thinking someday I will be just like him. That was part of the reason I started to play golf."
In 1970 golf was not a popular game in Taiwan. Only a handful of courses were worthy of the name, and equipment was difficult to obtain even for the few who could afford it. The Japanese, who ruled Taiwan from 1895 to 1945, had introduced golf on the island at the turn of the century, but it was played only by Japanese government officials and a few wealthy Chinese.
When Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist followers retreated to Taiwan from the mainland in 1949, they took over where the Japanese had left off. A small group of mainland military men, led by a four-star general named Chow Chih-jou, founded GAROC to promote and govern the amateur game.
In 1971 Lu Liang-huan (Mr. Lu) finished second to Lee Trevino in the British Open and won the French Open a week later. The next year, Mr. Lu and Hsieh Min-nan beat the favored Americans and Australians for the World Cup. Mr. Lu became a national hero, and the Taiwanese began to follow golf.
And they began to play it, too. As the number of golfers grew, so did the number of professionals. Today more than 150,000 amateurs play the game on 33 courses, and 89 professionals ply their trade. The best of the professionals move on to the Asian circuit and the Japanese tour—women, too. Tu Ai-yu, nicknamed the Taiwan Hurricane, won seven tournaments in Japan last year and has been the leading money winner in the women's game there for four years.
When T.C. took up golf, T.M. was already a member of the national amateur team. Within a year T.C. was on the team, too. Together the brothers won amateur trophies near and far. They won by large margins, and they broke course records. Once, T.M., playing in an open tournament in Malaysia as an amateur, beat the low pro by 13 strokes.