October 24, 2017: University of Florida sophomore Andy Zhang believes China’s players are joint favorites with Australia and hosts New Zealand at this week’s ninth Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC), which starts on Thursday.
Zhang, 19, is 39th on the World Amateur Golf Ranking and China’s top-ranked player at Royal Wellington Golf Club, where the eventual champion will earn spots in the 2018 Masters Tournament and, for the first time, The 147th Open at Carnoustie.
Zhang’s compatriots include fellow US college golfers Jin Cheng (University of South California) – the 2015 champion in Hong Kong – and Carl Yuan Yechun (University of Washington), the country’s second and third-ranked amateurs.
The trio led the Chinese charge last year in Korea where Yuan finished ninth, Zhang tied for 12th and Jin shared 15th place.
Like Jin, Guan Tianlang – who turns 19 on Wednesday – is also playing the AAC for the sixth straight year, having won the title in 2012 when he was only 14 and then made the cut at the Masters Tournament the following April. Yuan, 20, also played in 2014.
Zhang, 19, believes such experience makes China one of this week’s front-runners. The country is one of four nations, along with Australia, Japan and Korea, whose players have won the championship twice.
“I’d say the favorites are between New Zealand, because they’re hosting and have some really good players, Australia and us,” said Zhang, who played in the 2012 US Open when only 14.
“We’ve got a good team including Jin, Carl and Guan. Jin and Guan have both won it before and I don’t think any other team has two former champions. I think we’re always one of the better countries in the field, so we’re looking to do well.”
The six China players also include 17-year-olds Lin Yuxin and Ye Wocheng, who was 12 when he became the youngest player in a European Tour event (2013 Volvo China Open). Both of them made the cut in European Tour events in China earlier this year while two weeks ago the left-handed Lin tied for seventh in the Challenge Tour’s Hainan Open.
Zhang himself has been in good form recently and tied for third at the Trinity Forest Invitational in Texas at the end of September. The Beijing-born Zhang is now in his second year playing for the University of Florida (Gators), having moved to Florida in 2008 when he was 10.
“I’ve gone through a lot of stuff on and off the course this summer, but from the end of the summer, especially the last few weeks, my form has been getting better so I’m looking forward to a good week,” said Zhang, runner-up in last year’s Canadian Men’s Amateur.
“I decided to go back to college at the University of Florida for a second year and I’m enjoying it a lot, playing alongside some really good players. At one point, we had four guys ranked in the world’s top 50 so we have a pretty good team. Playing alongside these guys all the time is definitely an advantage.”
Zhang made his AAC debut last year and admitted he’s a huge fan of the championship, especially as it introduces him to countries he’s never been before.
“I had a fantastic time last year. It was a really well organised event, with The R&A, the Masters and APGC involved, and it’s definitely one of the events I enjoy the most during the year. Coming to a country that I’ve never been to, both last year and this year, is really cool,” Zhang said.
“Before coming to New Zealand, I’d heard about Kiwis. It’s funny, but I was on my connecting flight coming here and they were talking about Kiwis and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll try to eat a lot of Kiwis’. And they were like, ‘a Kiwi’s not a fruit’ and that kind of blew my mind. I didn’t know a Kiwi was a bird, so I need to look up what it looks like … it doesn’t fly?!”
Australians Travis Smyth and Harrison Endycott are the AAC’s two highest-ranked players at 12 and 14 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), with all six of the Australia team ranked inside the top 70.
Nick Voke (World No. 44) is New Zealand’s top-ranked player and among 10 players representing the hosts while other top players include Indian teen Rayhan Thomas (World No. 26) and Yu Chun-an (World No. 34), Chinese Taipei’s top-ranked player.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) is organised by the Founding Partners – Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A – and will be televised across 160 countries and reach millions of homes around the world.
The Championship is also supported by six Proud Partners – AT&T, 3M, Mercedes-Benz, Samsung, Zurich and UPS – and two Scoring Partners, Rolex and IBM.