Tucson, AZ (KOLD) – Wanasa Zhou was 9 years old the first time her life was uprooted.
Up until then the senior Wildcat golfer had been living a very structured existence in China's Fujian province. Her parents, however, wanted more for their eldest daughter. They wanted her to learn English. They wanted her to have a foreign education. And so, during the holiday season, the Zhou's packed up and moved the family south. A fourteen and a half hour plane ride down to Melbourne, Australia.
"I was really scared," said Wanasa. "In China, the security is not so good. We'd always have two doors that were locked. When I first went to Australia, I remember the first night I couldn't go to sleep because there was only one door and there was only one lock."
Wanasa was 13 years old the second time her life was uprooted.
By that point, she had adapted to Western culture. She had learned English in just six months. She found sports and had come to love one game in particular.
"When I was in elementary school in China there was a lot of schoolwork," said Wanasa. "I finished schoolwork at like ten or eleven at night. When I moved to Australia there was no schoolwork after school. I finished at three. I had so much time on my hands. My uncle taught himself how to play tennis. He ended up teaching me how to play."
Wanasa turned out to be quite good. Good enough to be ranked 12th in the state of Victoria for the 12-14-year-old age group. She was ready to pursue it as a career. Which was why it stung so badly when her father James insisted she switch sports.
"He thought as a life span of an athlete, it's just a little longer maybe for golf," said Wanasa. But it was more than that.
When his family moved to Australia, James had remained behind for work.
"I only got to see him maybe once a year," said Wanasa. "He wanted to establish a common language between me and him."
Golf was that common language, a game her father had started playing 10 years earlier.
"I didn't want to pick up golf," said Wanasa. "I was actually a little devastated. I thought there was some way I could get out of it."
There wasn't. And when she traveled back to China to celebrate her younger sister Kelly's birthday, she never returned to Australia.
"When I went back to talk to (former Australian tennis teammates) they said, 'You know Wanasa, when you left there was no sign. You didn't tell anyone.' It was just my parents' decision. I just moved back the next semester. I didn't show up to school. No one knew where I was."
Once back in China, she begrudgingly focused her attention on golf, learning the game under a coach chosen by her father.
"When I first started with the coach I didn't put in any effort at all."
Wanasa soon realized, though, that tennis had given her a decent foundation. Not in mechanics but in athleticism.
"Tennis gave me a big advantage of when to use power with my body."
She moved eight hours north from Fujian to Shanghai. There, she shared an apartment with a team of nine other golfers and, in that space, figured out that her competitive fire still burned.
"I was able to watch these guys play golf, the really good guys," said Wanasa. "I'm a very competitive person. Seeing how good they can get with golf? I just wanted to give it a shot."
Wanasa was 15 years old the third time her life was uprooted.
Two years after she took up golf, she started playing competitively. Not in China. Not in Australia. In California. There were several reasons for this.
First and foremost, there were more tournament opportunities in the States. Second, Wanasa had obtained Australian citizenship which made it exceedingly difficult to compete on the Chinese junior circuit seeing how the Chinese government did not recognize dual nationals.
It turned out that gaining her Australian citizenship proved to be a smart strategic move. It gave her the freedom to enter tournaments in different countries and made it easier to acquire a United States visa which came in handy when, as a student at Mesa Grande Academy, located an hour and a half east of Los Angeles, her new American golf coach, former Wildcat and 2004 Pac-10 champion Henry Liaw, introduced her to Arizona's head coach Laura Ianello.
"I came here, I knew it was the school for me."
Wanasa joined Arizona as a walk-on. Four years later, she finishes her collegiate career with some notable distinctions. 2015 Pac-12 champion. 2017 winner of the Mountain View Collegiate where she set the Arizona record for the lowest 54-hole score (-13). 2017 Pac-12 Scholar Athlete of the Year.
"Wanasa is that kid everybody dreams to coach," said Ianello. "She's gotten better every year. She's not scared of working hard."
"I was independent before coming into college," said Wanasa. "But I didn't know if I could handle college. I believe I've handled it quite well as far as organizing my way around to get things done."
Those organizational skills will come in handy when her Wildcat career concludes. Wanasa will step right into the Symetra Tour as a full-time professional, a status she acquired after attending Q-School last fall. She'll play fourteen tournaments over the next five months.
"It's a different lifestyle on tour," said Wanasa. "Traveling back to back. I'll be alone a lot. Hopefully I can adapt."
For Wanasa, that shouldn't be too difficult. She's been adapting to change for most of her life.