Chinese amateur prodigy Guan Tianlang, winner of the 2012 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, is part of a strong field bidding for a place in The Open Championship at Muirfield at this week’s International Final Qualifying – Asia which gets underway on Thursday.
Guan is expected to be a contender for one of the four spots available in The Open, at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand where he won the AAC last November.
The 14 year-old is aiming to secure a place in his second major championship at The Open, which takes place from 14-21 July, after qualifying for the Masters Tournament in April.
“I have played at some professional golf tournaments before and it is always great to play with the professional golfers. I can learn so much from them and the experience of playing at the professional events. So I am looking forward to IFQ-Asia,” said Guan.
Cheng-tsung Pan of Taiwan, who finished runner-up to Guan in November and is the highest ranked Asian player in the World Amateur Golf Rankings at fifth, is joined in the field by two-time Asia-Pacific Amateur Champion, Hideki Matsuyama who became the first Japanese amateur to play in the Masters Tournament in 2011.
Matsuyama is part of a strong Japanese contingent which includes Kodai Ichihara, who qualified from IFQ-Asia last year to play in The Open at Royal Lytham & St Annes, Yuta Ikeda, who played in The Open at Royal St George’s in 2011, last year’s Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open champion Masanori Kobayashi and Masamichi Ito, who turned professional in December and was last year’s Faldo Series Asia Champion.
Scotland’s James Byrne, who turned professional after helping Great Britain and Ireland win the Walker Cup in 2011 and currently plays on the Asian Tour, is plotting a return home for The Open.
Home interest in the event centres on rising Thai star Arnond Vongvanij who is eager to join countrymen Thaworn Wiratchant and Thongchai Jaidee at Muirfield. The diminutive Arnond missed out by one shot to join in the play-off for the final berth last year and hopes to make amends in the two-day qualifying event at his home course. Thaworn qualified for The Open Championship courtesy of winning the Asian Tour Order of Merit in 2012 and Jaidee qualified by finishing in the top 30 in last year’s Race to Dubai.
Fellow Thai players Prom Meesawat and Kiradech Aphibarnrat will be among the hopefuls along with Indians Gaganjeet Bhullar and Anirban Lahiri, who won last year’s qualifier, Siddikur Rahman of Bangladesh and Miguel Tabuena of the Philippines. Guan Tianlang‘s compatriots Wu Ashun and Hu Mu, will also feature in the field.
Arnond’s career has been on the rise since joining the Asian Tour last year. In his first season, he claimed four top-10s including one win at the King’s Cup on home soil. He hopes to add a Major appearance to his fledging career but is wary of the strong challengers in the 78-man field.
“It is always exciting to get the chance to qualify for The Open Championship. I’m going to go into the qualifier with a thought that I have nothing to lose. I’m going to try to play well and have fun,” said the 24-year-old.
“It would be an honour to play in The Open Championship because it is the oldest Major Championship in the world. The qualifier is only two rounds so that makes things a lot harder than a four-round tournament,” said Arnond.
Siddikur was the first player from his country to play and win on the Asian Tour and he is now hoping to be the first Bangladeshi to play in The Open Championship.
“If I do qualify, the popularity of golf in Bangladesh will go to an even higher standard. The Amata Spring course is quite long but I have shot a low number there before. I’m quite confident of making it this time,” said Siddikur.
Lahiri is determined to make a swift return to The Open Championship after making his debut last season where he finished tied 31st and notched up a memorable hole-in-one in the third round.
“I think it was a breakthrough debut for me to finish as the top Asian in The Open Championship last year. Playing with the best in the game and finishing ahead of a lot of big names gave me tremendous confidence in my ability. I also gained valuable experience of playing in severe conditions on links golf courses, something that’s not common in Asia,” he said.
International Final Qualifying for The Open continues at Royal Johannesburg and Kensington Golf Club in South Africa on 5 and 6 March. It is followed by IFQ America at Gleneagles Country Club in Texas on 20 May and IFQ Europe at Sunningdale in England on 24 June.