Cheung Goes Low, Raises Local Hopes

Hong Kong’s Matthew Cheung gave the local galleries plenty to cheer for Friday at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) thanks to a sensational 64 that lifted him into contention for the prestigious title.

The Oklahoma City University student, who started on the back-nine, coped with the windy conditions that characterised the morning play at the dramatic Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club admirably, collecting five birdies and an eagle in his 6-under-par effort.

Cheung was not alone in making a move up the leaderboard on Thursday morning. His playing partner, Ekharit Wu, of Thailand, carded a 67 to move to 6-under, while China’s She Zihan produced a fine 66 to leave him a shot behind his compatriot and overnight leader Jin Cheng, who goes out in the afternoon session.

It wasn’t such a good day for Nick Voke however. The New Zealander tacked a 71 onto his opening 64 to leave him at 5-under, but still within striking distance.

Cheung admitted to feeling disappointed after struggling to a 71 on day one, but the 20-year-old was in buoyant mood after rediscovering his game after an intensive session at the practice range.

“My ball-striking was the biggest difference,” said Cheung, who is making his second appearance at the AAC after playing at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club last year. “I hit the ball terribly yesterday and was able to scrap it round, but I found something in practice and was able to hole some putts. I felt good out there.”

The highlight of Cheung’s round came at the par-5 18th, his ninth hole of the day, where he struck his 7-iron approach to 15 feet and stroked home the eagle putt.

“The eagle came at just the right time because I made a bogey at the 17th, but I made a good up-and-down at the third which was just as important as it kept my momentum going,” said Cheung, whose stellar iron play was reflected by a scorecard that featured three birdie twos.

The best performance by a Hong Kong player at the AAC came at the inaugural tournament at Mission Hills Golf Club in 2009, when Steven Lam finished in a share of 30th. Cheung is well on course to better that result, but said he is trying not to get ahead of himself.

“The rewards that go to the winner this week are obviously massive, but I’m not thinking about that at all,” said Cheung, whose parents introduced him to the game after the family moved to Australia when he was a child. “I’m just enjoying the event. It’s really special to be playing here in Hong Kong and I think the impact the AAC has on local golf is going to huge.

“Hong Kong is in the spotlight. Everyone is really impressed by Clearwater Bay, so hopefully people will start thinking of Hong Kong as a great place to play golf rather than just a big city.”

With the weather set to deteriorate over the weekend, Cheung said he is well prepared for the challenge ahead.

“Hopefully it doesn’t get too wet, but I’m used to playing in the wind, so if it blows like it’s forecast to I’m not going to be concerned at all. I’m looking forward to it.”