Juniors Rise to Laguna National’s Masters Challenge

Lyn Sen (far left) and Ben Yang (far right) congratulate Jeong Joo-ri and Zubair Mohd Firdaus on their victories.

Singapore: Withstanding hurricane force winds, the inaugural Asia-Pacific Junior Amateur emerged as a bright, new addition to the region’s golfing calendar.

Staged over Laguna National Golf & Country Club’s Masters Course, the Singapore Golf Association (SGA)-organised event attracted promising youngsters from China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Korea, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore.

Unfazed by inclement weather that was responsible for a 6½-hour opening-day delay as debris was cleared from the course, Malaysian Zubair Mohd Firdaus and Korean Jeong Ji-roo emerged as worthy winners of the Boys’ and Girls’ divisions respectively.

Aimed at identifying top Asian talent and providing a pathway to college in the United States, the 54-hole stroke play tournament is backed by the Yang Foundation and PXG.

Jerome Ng, the SGA’s General Manager, said: “This tournament provides a competitive platform for juniors in the Asia-Pacific region and allows the top golfers to go head-to-head.

“It also offers top performers from the tournament a trip to the United States where they’ll represent an All-Star team in a friendly team tournament against the Southern Californian Golf Association.”

To be staged at the acclaimed Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles in August, the event presents an opportunity for players to be scouted by coaches from college teams in America.

Speaking at the Laguna National prize-giving, Ben Yang, Co-Founder of the Yang Foundation, said: “We’re delighted to be able to give students from around Asia the opportunity to play golf and get scholarships.

“It’s our hope to let coaches and universities in the United States know that we have tremendous talent in Asia.”

Zubair Firdaus reacts after holing the winning putt.

Displaying his steel, Firdaus, a student at the Hills Golf Academy in Brisbane, snared a 12-foot putt on the final green to secure a tense one-stroke success.

His gutsy par after a wayward drive at the last meant he signed for a closing 73 and a three-day total of even-par 216 – one in front of Thai Denwit Boriboonsub, who was left to rue bogeys at 16 and 17 when victory appeared within his sight.

Firdaus, last year’s Queensland Boys champion and a two-time winner of the Jakarta World Junior Championship who turned 17 in June, said: “This was my first time at Laguna National and I really enjoyed the layout. Standing on the tees I felt comfortable, especially at the par-fives.”

With his victory, Firdaus rose to 1,417th in The R&A World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) and earned invitations to July’s 53rd Pacific Coast Amateur in Albuquerque and October’s fifth Southern California Junior Amateur as well as two Asian Development Tour tournaments in 2019.

For her part, 16-year-old Seoul student Jeong took command with an opening 67 and never came under serious threat. She followed with rounds of 74 and 69 to finish seven strokes clear of her compatriot Park Ah-reum. A further five strokes in arrears in third place was Thai Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, who had the distinction of recording a hole-in-one at the 153-yard 12th hole.

Jeong, 544th in the WAGR, received invites to the CTBC Bank China LPGA, the CTBC Bank Taiwan LPGA and the Southern California Junior Amateur.

“This is my first trip to Singapore and I’m so impressed with Laguna National. It’s been a privilege to play here,” said Jeong, who hopes to follow a well-trodden path among Koreans to the LPGA Tour in America.

Singapore’s top male performer was Sean Lee, who claimed fourth place on a countback after rounds of 76, 72 and 74. Inez Ng led the local girls ending fifth on 225.

Outstanding performances also came from the groundstaff at Laguna National, a Golf Course Facility Member of the Asian Golf Industry Federation. It was thanks to their selfless efforts that the tournament was able to be completed.

Lyn Sen, SGA Vice President, said: “More than 40 trees fell as a result of the storm before the first round and a lot of clearing up was needed. Our thanks to the Laguna National team for preparing the course in such excellent condition.”

Kevin Kwee, Laguna National’s Executive Director, said: “Kudos to Mark Isley (Laguna National’s Director of Agronomy) and his staff for the remarkable job they did. Congratulations also to the winners. With so many outstanding young golfers, it’s clear that we can look forward to seeing Asian players contending at elite amateur and professional level for many years to come.”

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