The ninth staging of the very impressive Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship came to a dramatic conclusion here in New Zealand today. Rob Smith reports…
Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship Final Round
It was a slightly overcast but calm Sunday morning on the North Island of New Zealand as the final round of the 2017 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship began this morning at Royal Wellington Golf Club.
Going into the final round, there were three clear favourites with just one shot separating leader Yuxin Lin from China, his compatriot Andy Zhang and Australian Min Woo Lee. There was also a strong group in hot pursuit hoping to make up ground. You might expect such youngsters – Lin is only 17 – to struggle with the pressure of such serious competition. You might also be quite wrong!
Almost to a man, they are remarkably composed and assured, and it was the Chinese representatives who hit the fairway running. Zhang birdied the 1st and 3rd to take outright lead, while ahead of him compatriot Cheng Jin birdied five of the opening eight holes to make a charge. As the final group reached the 10th tee, it was Lin and Zhang who had seemingly taken control, both turning at 11-under having gone out in 33 and 32 respectively. At this point, and with the sun coming out and the breeze getting up a little, they had a cushion of four over Lee and first-round leader Shae Wools-Cobb.
Things can change very quickly in golf as was demonstrated at the next hole as Lee’s birdie and Lin’s bogey changed the dynamics. Lin’s cool demeanour has impressed all week and he bounced back straight away with a birdie only to run up another bogey at the next. As the final group headed for home it developed into a two-horse race with the two Chinese golfers, Lin and Zhang, trading blows.
Fortune favours the brave (and strong!), and at the par-4 penultimate hole, Lin went for the green and hit a great drive that finished on the collar. This birdie gave him a 1-shot lead going to the closing hole. With the pressure on, Zhang hit the par-5 final green in two, but a sensational second from Lin set up an eagle putt. Three putts from long range for Zhang and a holed 4-footer from Lin resulted in a 3-stroke victory that sounds comfortable but which was anything but.
And so Yuxin Lin can look forward to an amazing year in 2018 with the exceptional prize of an invitation to The Masters in April, and a place in the field at the 147th Open Championship in Scotland. While Augusta certainly has some similarities with the beautiful Heretaunga Course here at Royal Wellington Golf Club, the challenge at Carnoustie could hardly be more different.
With Chinese golfers taking the first three places and the stronger golfing nations perhaps understandably dominating the leaderboard, it is still very encouraging to see the likes of Singapore, the Phillipines and Indonesia featuring well. This shows that the investment by The R&A, The Masters and the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation is paying dividends.
Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A has been here all week. Afterwards, he said, “The two things we really care about are bringing more people into golf and giving players the opportunity to excel at the top levels of the game. Amateur golf is in our DNA. We want to stimulate growth in the game around the world, but we also want to ensure that it is still thriving in 50 or 100 years’ time. The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship encapsulates these goals and plays a huge role in helping the most talented players in this diverse region to improve by competing against their international peers. Just as importantly, it inspires other young players to develop their skills to reach that level. We have undoubtedly achieved both of these objectives this week in Royal Wellington and it has been another hugely successful championship. We are really excited about the potential for this championship to continue to grow and become even more successful in future.”
The new champion was finally a little more animated following his victory but still had his Footjoys firmly on the ground. He said, “I’m very, very, very happy about getting a chance to play these two Majors. I’m actually very proud of myself to be able to do it. Next year, I think I will just try to enjoy as much as possible.”
It will be very interesting to see whether Lin can use this as a launchpad for his career in much the same way as World Number 4 Hideki Matsuyama who won this event in both 2010 and 2011. Most importantly, there can be strong confidence that the future of golf around the world is in safe hands and developing well.