China has emerged as a dominant force in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) in recent years and their players are keen to continue their remarkable run when the 10th edition of the region’s premier amateur golf tournament is played at Sentosa Golf Club from Thursday.
The first AAC was held at Mission Hills in China, but no player from the mainland ever made it to the top-10 until 14-year-old Guan Tianlang made history by winning the tournament, and then went on to become the youngest player ever to make the cut at the Masters the year after.
Thereafter, Jin Cheng (2015, Hong Kong) and Lin Yuxin (2017, Wellington) have entered the Roll of Honour. Last year was particularly good for the Chinese golfers and unprecedented for the championship as four players from one country finished inside the top-five.
“I don’t think there is any secret to what we did last year. It doesn’t matter what you do, you just have to go out there and hit the golf ball well,” said the defending champion Lin.
Andy Zhang, who finished runner-up to Lin in Wellington, added: “The last few years, we have done really well. We have felt like we are the favourites whichever event we go to. Having your teammates winning is a good motivation for others and makes them try even harder.
“I think China has been trying really hard to grow the game of golf. A lot of kids back home are playing the game now. Maybe, we entered late compared to other countries but we picked it up really fast. We now have a lot of winners – Li Haotong is now a world top-50 player. And this tournament is reflective of that change.”
The China Golf Association (CGA) also provides the amateurs will plenty of playing opportunities in professional tournaments.
“We have a lot of professional events in China now. We have the PGA Tour China and the China Tours, we have a World Golf Championship event and a couple of European Tour events and plenty other smaller tournaments. There is a lot of opportunity for our players to play against the world’s best, and that not only helps our golf game but also makes us mentally stronger,” chipped in Cheng.
Lin returned to the game after a couple of months away following a wrist injury, while Zhang has been suffering from a stomach bug ever since he got into Singapore from Dallas, where he finished tied for the fourth place in the Web.com Tour Q-School and advanced to the second stage with a 16-under par score.
A winner by three shots in Wellington thanks to a final-round 65, Lin explained: “I am pain-free now. I have practised a lot the last couple of weeks. My game is not 100 per cent there yet but I am pretty sure I will be ready when the tournament starts tomorrow.”
Zhang was in a bullish mood despite not being able to put in a complete round of practice.
“I met a doctor on Tuesday and I was feeling very weak. But I am much better today. I played well in Dallas and I will carry a lot of momentum from there this week even though the two courses could not have been more different,” he added.
“It is my last tournament as an amateur, but I don’t want it to be, because of all the great rewards that come from winning here. To be able to play at The Masters and The Open is a very big deal, so I am super motivated.”
One player that the entire field will have to be wary of this week is New Zealand’s, Daniel Hillier.
The 20-year-old, tied sixth last year in his hometown of Wellington, has been in red-hot form coming to Singapore. He was the stroke-play medalist at the US Amateurs last month, and then almost guided his team to a victory in the World Amateur Team Championship in Dublin (finished fourth), where he was tied third among individuals with a 17-under par score.
“I am feeling really good. I had a very good summer in the US. To come away with some good finishes over there leading into this week. I just need to stick to the process and hopefully, it will all come together at the right time,” said Hillier, who will have his sister Natalie on the bag this week.
The AAC winner earns an invitation to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club and a place in The 148th Open at Royal Portrush in 2019, provided he retains his amateur status. The runner(s)-up will gain a spot in The Open Qualifying Series.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which is now one of the five ‘Elite’ events on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, is supported by six Proud Partners – AT&T, 3M, Mercedes-Benz, Samsung, Delta and UPS – and two Scoring Partners, Rolex and IBM.