‘TK’ Targets Maiden Thai Victory at AAC

Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat will be bidding to become the first Thai winner of the AAC. Picture by Matthew Lewis/R&A.

Chonburi, Thailand: The region’s top men’s amateur talent will gather for the 13th Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) at Amata Spring Country Club from October 27-30.

The AAC was created in 2009 as a joint initiative to develop the game by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A. An invitation to play in the Masters Tournament and The Open is given to the winner, while the runner(s)-up gain a place in The Open Qualifying Series for The Open.

Over the AAC’s 13-year history, the championship has served as a springboard to some of the world’s top players today. AAC alumni have gone on to win 23 PGA Tour tournaments, highlighted by Hideki Matsuyama at the 2021 Masters and Cameron Smith at The Open in 2022.

After top-ranked Keita Nakajima captured the 2021 AAC title, all eyes will be on local hero Ratchanon ‘TK’ Chantananuwat at Amata Spring next month.

At number 12 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), ‘TK’ is the highest-ranked player in the field and is looking to become the first player from Thailand to win the AAC. The previous top finish by a Thai player was tied third, accomplished by Tanapat Pichaikool in Shanghai in 2019.

The 15-year-old ‘TK’ is ready to change that. In April this year, he became the youngest male player to win on one of the game’s Major circuits with his triumph at the Asian Tour’s Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup. He also finished runner-up in the R&A Junior Open.

He said: “I am really looking forward to playing my first Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship. No Thai player has ever won the title and I want to be the one who does that, especially this year when the championship is also being hosted in our country.

“Playing the Masters at Augusta National and The Open would be a dream come true for me, and I have the chance to realise that dream by doing well in the AAC.”

Chinese players are expected to provide a formidable challenge with three inside the WAGR’s top-50. Led by two-time AAC winner Lin Yuxin (2017 in New Zealand and 2019 in China), the contingent also features Oklahoma State University standout Jin Bo and reigning US Junior Amateur champion Ding Wenyi, currently the second-highest WAGR player in the field at number 17. With the win, Ding became the first Chinese male player to win a USGA title.

“I played the AAC in 2019 in Sheshan and had a lot of regrets as it was my first AAC,” said Ding, who finished tied 45th in 2019. “It was a huge stage and I just got too excited and out of control in many aspects.

“Winning the US Junior was a huge confidence boost for me. I haven’t been able to play alongside the international top amateurs due to Covid-19 these years so I had no idea where my game was.

“It was great to know that my game is there and it definitely gave me a lot of confidence with upcoming tournaments, including the AAC. My goal for this year is to go as high as possible on the leaderboard and a champion’s trophy would be even better. I would be happy to follow in other Chinese boys’ footsteps.”

Australia will once again send a strong set of contenders with three of their players ranked in the top-50 of the WAGR – Connor McKinney (27th), Hayden Hopewell (33rd) and Harrison Crowe (49th).

Japanese players will be looking to win a third title since 2018 (Takumi Kanaya/2018, Nakajima/2021) and will be led by Masato Sumiuchi, 101st in the WAGR.

Sumiuchi will be looking to follow the legacy of Kanaya, Nakajima and Matsuyama, who won back-to-back AACs in 2010 and 2011 and went on to become the first Asian-born player to win the Masters Tournament in 2021.

Another player eager for the return of AAC action is Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho, who lost in a play-off to Nakajima last year after posting weekend rounds of 64-65.

“What I managed to do in Dubai last year was probably the highlight of my career so far,” said Kho, 75th in the WAGR. “Even though I lost in the play-off to Keita, I was very pleased with how I competed. Do I want to go one step better? Absolutely. It would be an amazing honour to become the first player from Hong Kong to win an AAC title.

“I hope I can carry on from that unforgettable weekend in Dubai and punch my tickets to the Masters and The Open in Thailand. The AAC is such a great opportunity for our region to compete against each other and we are all grateful for that.”

Amata Spring Country Club was designed by Lee Schmidt and established in 2005. The venue previously hosted the AAC in 2012 and has provided the backdrop for the LPGA Thailand, the Thailand Golf Championship and the Royal Trophy team event.

Guan Tianlang earned a historic victory at the 2012 AAC over future PGA Tour winners CT Pan (runner-up), Matsuyama (fourth) and Smith (tied seventh) when he became the youngest player to win the AAC at 14 years old. He later became the youngest player to compete, and make the cut, at the Masters Tournament in 2013.

Taimur Hassan Amin.

Taimur Hassan Amin, Chairman of the APGC, said: “It’s a pleasure to welcome our players back for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.

“Amata Spring crowned one of our most amazing champions to date, 14-year-old Guan Tianlang in 2012, who then went on create some more magic by becoming the youngest player ever to make the cut at the Masters. Tianlang epitomises what we at the APGC, in association with Augusta National Golf Club and The R&A, set out to achieve – unearthing the massive potential we have in our region.

“I am sure we will have a fantastic and worthy champion following four days of intense competition to follow in the footsteps of such remarkable AAC alumni as Hideki Matsuyama and Cameron Smith.”

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