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  • Writer's pictureANNIKA Foundation

With A Little Help From Golf, Duke's Yi Xiao is Forging a Path in Banking

Eleven-year-old Yi Xiao’s life was forever changed when her physical education teacher began a unit covering the basics of golf. Unbeknownst to her at the time, that stroke of good fortune would eventually make her one of the first people from China to play NCAA golf.

“I was drawn to golf almost immediately,” says Yi, a native of Guangzhou, the largest city in southern China. “After that initial introduction in school, I joined a summer camp and began training every day for six hours. From there, I quickly moved on to junior tournaments. I fell in love with the game very quickly.”

“It probably helped that I was a big hitter,” she adds with a laugh.

One of the first tournaments that introduced Yi to a higher level of international competition was the ANNIKA Invitational Mission Hills in nearby Dongguan. Mission Hills, the world’s largest golf club with 12 courses, has hosted this ANNIKA Foundation event since 2011. The tournament is the first invitational the Foundation held outside of the United States, as well as China’s first “girls only” junior event.

After sharpening her skills against the best players in the Asia-Pacific region, she took the next logical step and began competing in select junior events in America.

“I always had the goal of playing college golf in the U.S., but I started the recruiting game a little bit late. Fortunately, one of my close friends, Yu Liu, introduced me to Coach [Dan] Brooks at Duke. He had one spot left, but I visited campus and everything just clicked. Duke offered not only great academics, but a golf program that was getting many players to the LPGA. I also knew of Coach K and loved the school pride. I was also looking at Yale and UPenn, but Duke was the perfect fit for me.”

Upon arriving in Durham, Yi took some time adjusting to life in the U.S.

“Although I attended an international high school, I had to get used to having all my classes in English, not to mention growing comfortable with American culture. On top of that, I also had to get used to playing as part of a team. College golf is unique in that way.”

Like many freshmen, her first semester she found it tough to balance golf and school.

“I learned how to manage my time much better after that first semester. I realized I couldn’t jam everything into a day and got smarter about balancing my schedule with easier and harder classes.”

But Yi admits there were highs and lows to her golf journey at Duke.

“I played well my first semester at Duke, but then struggled my second semester. My sophomore year followed the same pattern. I was making some swing adjustments and not seeing the results I’d hoped for.”

It was after the spring season of her sophomore year that she realized she no longer wanted to try to play professionally.

“There isn’t really a single moment I can point to when I made that decision; instead, I just gradually came to that conclusion. I had joined a student organization for top performers who were interested in learning more about financial services and it really opened my eyes to other opportunities that were out there.”

With that, the 2016 graduate began taking steps toward a career in investment banking. She interned with Deutche Bank in New York after her junior year and got an offer to return after graduating. But after spending two years there, she got an offer to return home to China to work at a smaller bank; a startup of sorts.

“I’d always thought about returning to China, but it wasn’t ever like I needed to go back. I wrestled with the decision. It was difficult to give up my position in New York. I’d learned a lot, but this new opportunity would allow me to move from the selling side to the buying and management side of investment banking. I’d be able to use more independent judgment; I liked that it was similar to golf in that respect."

Although Yi has only played “one or two times in the last year” the lessons she learned on the course are never far from her mind.

“Golf has been so helpful to my banking career. It makes you so mentally strong and disciplined; you feel like you can tackle anything.”

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