October 5, 2016: Two-time Korea Amateur champion Yun Sung-ho and US-based pair Lee Won-jun and Yang Gunn will spearhead the local challenge this week as South Korea hosts the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship for the first time.
Korea’s 10 representatives teeing off on Thursday at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club in Incheon – home of last year’s Presidents Cup – also include Kim Tae-ho, fourth in Hong Kong last year, Joseph Chun, Ha Jin-bo, Jang Seung-bo, Ryu Je-chang, Kang Tae-young and Lee Jae-kyeoung.
All are bidding to follow in the footsteps of compatriots Han Chang-won (2009) and Lee Chang-woo (2013), who won the championship on the two occasions it was held in China.
Yun, 20, is arguably the team’s most in-form player, retaining his Korea Amateur title in early September before sharing third place in the World Amateur Team Championships individual standings in Mexico two weeks ago.
“I really want to win this championship,” said Yun, who finished 11th in Hong Kong last year and 33rd in Australia in 2014. “If I win this, I can play in the Masters and Open qualifying. The Masters is special to every golfer, so I’d really like to win and play at Augusta National.”
Lee Won-jun, 18, has lived in the US since he was 12 and is Korea’s leading player on the World Amateur Golf Ranking at No. 89. Originally from Seoul, the Florida-based teen tied for 27th in Hong Kong last year but is particularly excited about returning to Korea.
“Playing in front of your home crowd is the best thing you can do. I think a Korean will win this week because all of the players on our team are really good,” said Lee, who has committed to the University of South Florida from 2017.
“Gunn won the US Amateur (in 2014). That’s huge. Sung-ho has won the Korea Amateur twice and is a really good player. I’ve known him since I was 12 and he’s a really nice guy. I also play a lot of junior tournaments in the US with Joseph Chun.”
Lee has competed in the US Junior Amateur for the past three years, reaching the semi-finals in 2015 and the quarter-finals this year, while other highlights include a runner-up finish at last year’s AJGA FootJoy Invitational. The confident teen is now targeting a career-changing victory.
“The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is one of my favourite events and one of my goals is to win it. For one, it’s a big challenge because it’s all the best players in Asia-Pacific including many coming over from the US. Secondly there’s the chance of playing in the Masters and The Open so I think that’s a really good opportunity.”
Yang, who turned 23 last Friday, is arguably the team’s most high-profile player due to his memorable win in the 2014 US Amateur.
The prestigious title earned him starts in the Masters Tournament, US Open and The Open Championship last year plus invites to several PGA TOUR events. Despite his experience of competing against the world’s best players, he’s full of praise for his younger teammates.
“Sung-ho just finished third at the World Amateur Team Championships so he’s definitely in good form for this week. Won-jun has been tremendous. He’s one of the highest-ranked players on the AJGA and just got recruited by South Florida. They’ve both been playing great and I’ve just got to do my job.”
Yang is now in his fourth and final year at San Diego State University in the US, having previously lived for over five years in Melbourne, Australia.
“I’m pretty positive about my game right now after I struggled a bit in the last college season. I just couldn’t get my swing together and my putting was a little bit off although my chipping and wedge shots were really consistent. I’ve started to work with a different coach and my ball striking’s getting better,” Yang said.
“It would mean a lot for there to be a Korean winner this week. It opens the window for your professional career and bigger things to come. It means a lot to everybody and especially to me too.”