Singapore: Founded in 2009 with the specific vision of growing the game in the region and creating new heroes, the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) has delivered on both counts within a short span of nine years.
Not only has the event produced champions who have become household names, but it has also become the most sought-after amateur title in the continents of Asia and Australia.
The 10th edition of the AAC, which was established by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A, will be played from October 4-7 on the New Tanjong Course at Singapore’s Sentosa Golf Club, a Golf Course Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation.
A full field of 120 players from 40 countries – up from 32 when the event was first held – will vie for what has been described as the ‘ultimate prize’. The champion will earn an invitation to the 2019 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club and a place in the 148th Open at Royal Portrush in 2019. The runner(s)-up will gain a spot in The Open Qualifying Series.
The biggest endorsement of the AAC’s success is perhaps the fact that it has now been accorded ‘Elite’ status by World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) – a privilege enjoyed by just a few other men’s amateur tournaments in the world: The Amateur Championship, the US Amateur Championship, the European Amateur Championship, the NCAA Division I Championship and the World Amateur Team Championship.
The rankings of the players themselves also reflect the progress made by the region since the launch of the AAC.
On week 43 in 2009, when the inaugural AAC was played at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China, only one player from the region (Daniel Nisbet of Australia at number 47) was in the top-50. There were six others in the top-100.
In last week’s WAGR, there were as many as 12 players in the top-50 including two from China, one from India, Thailand and Chinese Taipei, and 20 players in the top-100.
If the biggest barometer of a championship’s success is the quality of its Roll of Honour, however, the AAC can proudly showcase champions like Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (winner in 2010 and 2011), China’s Guan Tianlang (2012, who went on to become the youngest player to make the cut at the Masters at the age of 14 years and five months) and Australian Curtis Luck (2016).
In addition, the current list of top-100 professional players in the world features several past AAC participants, including Matsuyama, Cameron Smith (Australia), Satoshi Kodaira (Japan), Ryan Fox (New Zealand), Kim Si-woo (Korea) and CT Pan (Chinese Taipei).
As a two-time AAC champion now among the world’s best players, Matsuyama and his success are testimony to the impact of the AAC. He made the cut at the Masters both years he played as the AAC champion (tied 27th in 2011 and tied 54th in 2012), before turning professional, winning five titles on the PGA Tour and reaching as high as number two in the Official World Golf Ranking.
“Winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, first in Japan and the following year in Singapore, had a great impact on my career,” reminisced 26-year-old Matsuyama.
“The opportunities it provides, especially competing in the Masters Tournament, are a huge motivation to golfers in our region. The AAC made it possible for me to play alongside the top players in the world and inspired me to become the professional I am today.
“I know amateur players throughout Asia and the region are inspired and motivated by the AAC, not only because of the rewards for the champion, but also the elite tournament that it is – which is helping to elevate the talent and the sport itself in this part of the world.”
Luck, winner of the 2016 US Amateur and the Western Australia Open as well as his AAC triumph, added: “It is a championship that every amateur in the region is desperate to win. I have great memories from the 2016 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Jack Nicklaus Golf Club and it crowned an amazing summer for me. The championship provides such an unbelievable opportunity for the winner with exemptions to the Masters and The Open.
“The chance to play at Augusta National was a memorable experience, and while I was not able to take up the opportunity to play in The Open, as I turned professional after the Masters, hopefully, I can play my way back into these events in the future.”