Can Asia Pacific Am produce another star
BY Bruce Young | World Amateur Tour | 2013 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship | Preview | 23 Oct 2013
Play begins tomorrow in the fifth staging of the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship at the Nanshan Golf Club in Longkou City in the Shandong Province in China with several players well placed to follow in the footsteps of the event’s recent winners Hideki Matsuyama and Guan Tianlang.
Matsuyama won the event in 2011 and 2012 and went on to make the cut at the Masters and led the amateurs in 2011 and again made the cut at the Masters in 2012 has also made a stunning start to his professional career.
Just six months after joining the paid ranks in April of 2013, Matsuyama leads the Japan Tour money list by a huge margin having won three events there already this year, finished 10th at the US Open on debut, was 6th at this year’s Open Championship and made a successful debut at the Presidents Cup.
Last year 14 year old Guan Tianlang shocked golfing audiences worldwide when winning the Asian Amateur Championship securing himself a start at Augusta National.
Those same audiences may have been shocked by the poise he displayed when winning in Thailand last year but they were simply amazed by his effort to make the cut as a 14 year old on debut at Augusta National especially considering the one shot penalty he received for a slow play infringement during his second round.
The dignity Guan displayed when assessed the penalty was a lesson to many of more senior years and he further proved that his effort at Augusta National was no flash in the pan by making the cut at the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans.
Guan is back to defend his title and he gives the appearance of someone who now has the self belief in himself that he has earned. Not that he displays any cockiness as such but there is a gentle swagger about Guan in 2013 that was not apparent last year.
Also noticeably different is Guan’s build. He has strengthened and filled out considerably, some attributable to his maturing but some as a result of a stringent excercise programme.
At the opening ceremony tonight Guan raised a toast to his fellow competitors which he delivered in fluent English and with elegant poise, a further sign of his worldly experiences.
Whether the now 15 year old can replicate his brilliant win of last year is debatable. After arriving back to China from the US in August he has played only one event, a professional tournament on the Japan Tour and has focused much of his attention on fitness and schooling. He has continued to work on his game away from competitive golf so whether he is ready to contend this week remains to be seen.
Of the other more fancied candidates for victory this year, several Australians are genuine chances.
West Australian, Oliver Goss, finished 3rd in this event twelve months ago behind Guan and Chinese Taipei’s Pan Cheng tsung. In January he took up a scholarship at the University of Tennessee and played a key role in getting his side to the NCAA Finals. In August however would come perhaps the most significant performance of his young career to date. Goss made it to the Final of the US Amateur Championship at Brookline where he was beaten by England’s Matthew Fitzpatrick but by making it to the final he had gained the start at the Masters he so narrowly missed in this event last year.
Goss’s fellow West Australian, Brady Watt, is now Australia’s highest ranked amateur both internationally and in terms of world ranking. Goss defeated him in the semi finals of the US Amateur but Watt has been a prolific winner of amateur titles over the past twelve or so months in Australia and two weeks ago graduated to Stage Two of the Web.Com Tour.
Taylor Macdonald is the third Australian who could potentially do well. Last week Macdonald won the Keperra Bowl by a massive nine shots against a field of many leading Australian amateurs. He has shown a capacity to go really low, recording a round of 57 at his home club at Redcliffe near Brisbane last year and has made a lot of progress in recent months.
If any of the six Australians in the field other than Goss were to win the event then Australia would field two amateurs at the Masters for the very first occasion. On only two previous occasions have they had one, namely in 2004 when Nick Flanagan took advantage of his US Amateur victory and more recently when Bryden Macpherson gained a star courtesy of his British Amateur victory.
Pan Cheng Tsung, at number 5, is at present the leading world ranked amateur in the field, having been number one briefly earlier this year. The University of Washington star qualified for the US Open this year then made the cut, further confirming his considerable promise. Having finished strongly in 2012 to so nearly catch Guan he will start the event as one of, if not the favourite.
China’s Dou Ze Cheng, Koreans Lee Chang-woo and Soo Min Lee and Japan’s Eric Sugimoto and Kenta Konishi are others who could be considered possible contenders but whoever takes the title this year has big shoes to fill if they are to emulate the deeds of Matsuyama and Guan.
The Asia Pacific Amateur Championship continues to play its part in developing future superstars and given the quality of some of its more fancied contenders it is fair to assume that this year might well continue that trend.