The experience of playing in the Masters Tournament has Antonio Murdaca desperate to defend his Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) title in Hong Kong this week.
The Australian, who put in a sensational performance at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club 12 months ago to win by seven shots, carded rounds of 78 and 73 over the hallowed Augusta National turf to miss out on making it to the weekend at the season’s first major. But the 20-year-old’s memories of teeing it up alongside the world’s best players are still fresh, and he would like nothing more than to return for a second bite of the cherry.
“It was heart-stopping, that first tee, playing with Adam Scott and Dustin Johnson was really exciting,” said Murdaca, who is the first Australian to win the AAC. “Walking from the ninth green to the 10th tee was just like, you want to be back there. It’s such an exciting place to be and you just can’t get any better than that.”
Murdaca, who tees off at 11:53 a.m. Thursday alongside 2012 champion Guan Tianlang of China and former Junior Open champion Kenta Konishi of Japan, believes that his Masters odyssey has had a direct impact on his approach to the game.
“Playing the Masters helped me grow as a person, as a golfer,” he said. “I feel a lot more comfortable with everything I’m doing. Being able to play in tournaments and not feel that extra bit of nerve is really helpful, and just in myself knowing all that I can achieve.
“[The Masters Tournament] would be really awesome to go back to.”
Such is the strength of the field that has assembled at the spectacular Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club, however, Murdaca will have to be at his best if he’s to realise his dream.
At number eight in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), Murdaca’s friend and fellow countryman, Ryan Ruffels, starts among the favourites. The Victorian, who finished fourth at the AAC last year, has even been tagged as Australia’s hottest prospect since Jason Day. Not that the 17-year-old, who goes out in the first round alongside China’s Jin Cheng and Viraj Madappa of India at 7:23 a.m., is getting ahead of himself.
“I think everyone here knows what they want to do,” said Ruffels, who made the cut at the PGA Tour’s Canadian Open in July. “We all want to win the AAC and we all want to get to the Masters, which is the carrot at the end of the tunnel.
“I think my ranking is reflective of the fact I’ve played some good golf this year and I’m taking more confidence out of that then pressure.”
One player who can be assured a rousing reception from the galleries is Guan. The 16-year-old from Guangzhou, who made headlines around the world when he became the youngest player in major history to make the cut after he achieved the feat on his Masters appearance two years ago, made a statement to his fellow competitors by saying his form has progressed since those heady days.
“I think this is probably he one of the strongest Chinese teams ever, so I think we stand a very good chance to keep the trophy in China,” said the now 16-year-old, whose AAC victory came at the water-laced Amata Spring Country Club on the outskirts of Bangkok. “I think I’m a lot better now in all parts [of the game]. I played my best in 2012 and won the tournament by one shot, and I think if I play my best this week, I’ll have a good chance.”