Asia Pacific Amateur achieving its goals
BY Bruce Young | 19 Oct 2013
The 2013 Asia Pacific Amateur Championship begins on October 24th at the Nanshan Golf Club near Longkou City in the province of Shandong in China, the fifth year the event is being held.
One look at the those who have performed well in the event in the four previous years highlights the positive impact the Championship is having on golf in the region.
First played at Mission Hills Golf Club in China in 2009, the event has subsequently been taken to Japan, Singapore, Thailand, to China this year and in October of 2014 is scheduled to be held at Royal Melbourne.
With 37 countries now part of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation there are many further opportunities to spread the appeal of the event by holding the tournament in one of those countries in the years ahead but the growth and increasing credibility of the event along with the ongoing success of its past champions confirms it is already achieving many of its objectives.
The idea for the regional championship came after a discussion between those involved in the running of the Masters and New Zealander Tom Gault who was then the Captain of the R&A but who had also served time on the board of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation. The folk at Augusta National were keen to see how they might be involved in assisting the development of the game in the Asia Pacific Region and so the idea was born.
When Gault returned from a visit to the Masters he talked with Colin Phillips, the Honorary Secretary of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation. “Tom has been on the APGC as the President of Golf NZ,” said Phillips. “At that stage we had been building the Asia Pacific Open Amateur at Mission Hills for about four years but we decided after considering a lot of options that that would be the best way for Augusta National to be involved.”
The R&A would also take a stake in the event. When they found out that there had been discussions on the possibility of Augusta National taking a stake in the region through the support of such an event, the R&A were keen to be involved mainly due to their already long term role in the development of the game in the Asia Pacific region.
Peter Dawson, the Chief Executive of one of the game’s governing bodies, the R&A, said during the event last year that his organisation was delighted to be able to use the commercial success of the Open Championship to leverage the development of the game in the Asia Pacific Region. “It is wonderful to have the organisers of two major championships come together like this to support the growth of the game and the efforts of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation which represents the 36 national associations throughout the Asia Pacific Region."
Billy Payne, Augusta National’s Chairman, made similar comments. “So many youngsters are aspiring to greatness and to be able to give them this opportunity in partnership with the R&A to develop the game and create heroes is something we at Augusta felt we should be doing."
Not only are Augusta National funding the event in a large way they provide one of the great attractions of the Asia Pacific Championship, namely a start at the Masters the following year.
The Asia Pacific Golf Confederation has been established since 1963, initially as the Asia Golf Association to run a team’s event although with very few countries involved at that stage, namely Japan Chinese Taipei and the Philippines. The name was changed in 1978 to the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation and Australia and New Zealand were embraced as members.
Since those days there has been huge growth of the game in the region and consequently the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation has grown to the point where as mentioned earlier it consists of some 37 nations based on a geographical area defined generally by the guidleines of the International Olympic Committee. It essentially reaches into the Middle East in the west to China in the north to New Zealand in the South and to the Pacific Islands in the east. Saudi Arabia was the last nation to join the group and Oman has recently applied.
The potential population it embraces therefore is mindboggling and while the actual percentage of golfers in those countries is yet low, it is rapidly growing as the emerging economies of China and India, for example, expand their middle class.
This year’s event is being held at the same venue they have held the One Asia Tour’s Nanshan Masters over the last few years although the Nanshan Masters, which was played two weeks ago, switched venues to one of the other layouts at the multi course venue this year in order for preparations for the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship to be completed.
In its four previous years the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship has seen three of its winners make the cut at Augusta National. The winner in 2010, Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama, not only played Augusta in 2011 but he made the cut and led the amateurs. It was heady stuff, especially given that many more experienced players have yet to even get to Augusta National never mind done as well as him on debut.
In 2011 Matsuyama would win again, played the Masters in 2012 and made the cut again. He would play the event for the final time in 2012 but finished 4th and he missed out on the invitation to play the Masters but after turning professional in April of this year he has gone on to become one of the game’s most exciting talents.
He has won three times on the Japan Golf Tour in 2013, leads their money list by a huge margin and finished 10th at the US Open with the best final round of the day and then finished 6th at the Open Championship. When he gets to play Augusta National for the first time as a professional in 2014 Matsuyama will be well and truly primed for a big week because of the experience he has enjoyed there courtesy of the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship and his own great skills.
In 2012 the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship was won by the amazing talent that is Guan Tianlang. The then 14 year old, and only just at that point, held of a strong late challenge from Chinese Taipei’s Pan Cheng-tsung on the final day, holing a slippery seven footer at the 72nd hole to win by one.
At the age of 14, therefore, Guan had earned the right to become the youngest player to play the Masters. Surely this would be a bridge too far for the youngster. To everyone’s amazement he made the cut and did so despite a one shot penalty for slow play on day two. It was fairytale stuff, creating several milestone moments in the history of the Masters’ and World golf.
And so what of this year?
Guan is back again and although he has not played a lot of amateur events of late he did make the cut in both the Masters and the Zurich Classic on the USPGA Tour. If that is any indication then he is the man to beat this week but there are several others who might see it differently.
Perth’s Oliver Goss finished third behind Guan and Pan last year and in 2013 has already earned a start at the 2014 Masters by finishing runner-up to Matthew Fitzpatrick at the US Amateur Championship. Goss is now studying at the University of Tennessee and has performed well in the events he has played for them, playing a key role in getting the team to the NCAA Finals.
Goss’ fellow West Australian, Brady Watt, has been a revelation over the past twelve months or so in Australian and World amateur golf winning several events and himself making it to the semi-final of the US Amateur. He will be keen to get the spot he missed out on by losing to Goss in the semi-final at Brookline in Massachusetts in August. Watt is Australia’s number one amateur and ranked 6th in the world.
Queenslander Taylor Macdonald is in rare form having won last week’s Keperra Bowl in Brisbane by a massive nine shots in what was a national trial event. He was also the Victorian Amateur Champion last year and appears to be establishing himself amongst the best amateurs in Australia. In 2012 he recorded an amazing round of 57 -14 under par at his home course, the Redcliffe Golf Club, near Brisbane.
Other Australians in the field are Daniel Hoeve from West Australia, 18 year old Lucas Herbert, who earlier this year was beaten in a playoff for a PGA Tour of Australasia event and Geoff Drakeford, who finished runner -up to the recently turned professional Cameron Smith at the Australian Amateur Championship earlier this year. Drakeford was a late inclusion in the field following the withdrawal of Viraat Badhwar who is now at Stanford University.
New Zealanders in the field are former NZ Amateur and Strokeplay Champion Vaughan McCall, two time professional event winner and Lake Macquarie Amateur winner this year, Josh Munn, Luke Toomey, who recorded at round of 61 while leading the qualifiers at the NZ Amateur this year and has twice finished runner-up in Charles Tour events against professionals, Nick Voke who is now at the Iowa State University where he is already doing well, Sam An who played well at the Australian Amateur this year when reaching the semi finals and Blair Riordan who now bases himself in Melbourne but who has won several of New Zealand’s bigger amateur events.
Last year’s runner-up Pan Cheng-Tsung of Chinese Taipei, the leading world ranked amateur in this field, qualified to play the US Open this year and made the cut and the University of Washington star and is considered a great hope for the future of Asian golf. On those credentials alone he stands a great chance of going one better than last year.
China’s Dou Ze Cheng is just 16 but is already being touted as a one of the best young players in his homeland having been the youngest player to make a cut in a European Tour event when doing so at the Volvo China Open. He won the Chinese Amateur Championship last month.
Korean Lee Chang- woo won the Korean Amateur Championship by 14 shots this year and won an event on the Korean Professional Tour this year also suggesting he is well and truly above average.
These are but a few of the players considered chances in this year’s event. All will be dreaming of the chance to play the Masters in 2014 but in the meantime they must “carry out the process” as they say and win the Asia Pacific Championship first.
If an Australian other than Oliver Goss was to do so then Australia would have not only have one amateur at the Masters for one of the very few occasions in its history but for the very first time have two.
This year’s championship is shaping as another milestone moment for golf in the Asia Pacific region, just as was intended by those who became involved in establishing the event several years ago.