Defending Champ Expecting Tough Competition

Yuxin Lin of China, from left, Tanapat Pichaikool of Thailand, Chun An Yu of Chinese Taipei and Takumi Kanaya of Japan stand for a photographer during a photo call during the Asian Amateur Championship on Tuesday, Sept., 24, 2019 at the Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai, China. Photograph by AAC

SHANGHAI – Japan’s Takumi Kanaya will have to overcome a strong mix of local and international challengers in his bid to become only the second player in the history of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) to successfully defend his crown.

World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) No. 2 Kanaya, who became No.1 for one week last month, won by two strokes in Singapore last year after shooting four consecutive rounds in the 60s. If he were to lift the trophy come Sunday at Sheshan International Golf Club, he will follow in the footsteps of his mentor Hideki Matsuyama, who won consecutive championships in 2010 and 2011.

The region’s premier amateur tournament – co-founded by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A in 2009 – starts Thursday, September 26. The champion receives an invitation to the 2020 Masters Tournament and direct entry into The 149th Open at Royal St George’s.

Also looking to capture his second AAC title is the 2017 champion and local hero Lin Yuxin. The 120-man field from 39 countries and territories also include No. 4 David Micheluzzi and No. 11 Blake Windred, both of Australia; No. 9 Chun An Yu of Chinese Taipei, China; the in-form Tanapat Pichaikool of Thailand; India’s Rayhan Thomas and Malaysia’s Ervin Chang.

The fact that he is the highest-ranked player in the tournament is not lulling Kanaya into any false sense of security or complacency.

“It’s an honour to come back to this event and I am looking forward to competing as much and as hard as I can and looking forward to a win again,” said the 21-year-old, who is using the yardage book of Matsuyama from the year he won the WGC-HSBC Champions at Sheshan International.

“I am the highest ranked player, but I know there are many other good players in this tournament. What I need to do is focus on my own performance and focus on what I can control this week.

“I am not thinking about winning last year and what can happen this year. I know this golf course has difficult rough. So, I need to get my ball in position, especially with my shots to the green. I like to use my strength, which is accuracy from the tee box. I was able to use that in the Masters and The Open, so hopefully I can do it here again.”

The 19-year-old Lin led an unprecedented 1-2-3 finish for China at the 2017 AAC in New Zealand and he’d love to help replicate that feat in front of the home crowd.

After flying in from Los Angeles where he recently enrolled in the University of Southern California, Lin said: “I’m very excited. It will definitely mean a lot to me, winning here at home, especially at a prestigious golf course like Sheshan International.

“I just started college and I am still trying to adjust to new life and schedules and stuff. However, I have good confidence in my game…I’ve been hitting it quite well for the last couple weeks. I have just got to be patient throughout the week and we’ll see how it goes.

“That was a good finish in New Zealand [in 2017]. That’s what we are hoping to do this week. But we’ve got to be patient out there and then just try our best.”

Another top-ranked player in the field is India’s Rayhan Thomas, who finished tied for second last year in Singapore despite starting with an opening-round 74.

It was a long travel for Thomas from his new base in Stillwater, where he joined the prestigious Oklahoma State University as a freshman, and despite arriving late on Tuesday evening in Shanghai, he said: “I look at this as yet another learning experience. I am tired and I just got in one practice round, but I need to get used to this life and this week, in a big tournament like the AAC. It is going to be a huge test for me.”