Non-Australians Hopeful Despite Home Advantage

By Martin Blake

The best amateur golfers in the Asia-Pacific region have acknowledged the home advantage afforded to the 10 Australian players in the field for the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Royal Melbourne starting tomorrow, but with a rider.

​It was articulated by Gunn Yang, the outstanding 20-year-old Korean who won the United States amateur title in Atlanta this year. Yang said that while Royal Melbourne’s links-like conditions would make life tough for the Asian players, it was about performing on the day under tournament pressure.

“Well, (the) Aussies definitely have an advantage but I mean, it’s all about how you perform this week, that’s what it really matters,” said Yang “​I mean, they are used to these conditions and they always practice these conditions.  So (I’m) pretty sure they are going to play a lot a couple shots better than all the players.  But I don’t know how they are going to perform the tournament conditions, so we’ve got to play it first.”

The sixth Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship begins tomorrow morning at Royal Melbourne’s composite course, with a field of 117 players from 35 countries, and a place in the field for the 2015 Masters, as well as an opportunity to qualify for The Open Championship at St Andrews next year, on offer to the winner.

The players have spent two days of practice on firm greens running at around 12 on the stimp meter, and today they were confronted by a stiff northerly breeze. The 2012 AAC winner, Guan Tianlang of China, said that a par score of 72 would be competitive in the conditions, so tricky was the combination of the wind and the baked greens.

Both Tianlang and his Chinese teammate Dou Zecheng have played Royal Melbourne before, in the Australian Master of the Amateurs tournament, but they acknowledge how tough it can be in certain circumstances.  “It’s very challenging, obviously,” said Dou, who played alongside Guan in the Asian Games recently.  “I like more soft greens.  I hit it really low and (it) rolls a lot, but it’s a great experience for the future when I turn pro.  So I really enjoy it.”

Dou said the bounce of the ball on the green made players ponder over their second shots. “I think the landing areas, when you are hitting into the green, you have to think a lot, where it’s going to bounce, where it’s going to roll and what the wind’s going to do. I think the key is just being smart and attacking the green.”

Guan won the AAC at just 14, creating worldwide headlines, and the tournament means so much to him two years on. “I think the Asia Pacific Amateur Championship means a lot for me,” he said.  “It’s really a special tournament for amateurs.  Gives us a professional feeling, and then it gives us an opportunity to play in the Masters and also the qualifier for The Open Championship. So really grateful for Augusta and R&A to do this, so, thank you.”

Gunn Yang, who is also one of the strong contenders this week said the tournament was about calm on the greens. “I think it’s all about putting, because these greens are a little different.  I mean, they are saying it’s rolling around 11 and a half, 12.  Because there’s lots of undulations on the greens, so I mean, downhill putts, it could roll like 13, I think.”

Another player with a big opportunity is Chinese Taipei’s Pan Cheng-tsung, a senior at the University of Washington who has contended in the AAC before. Pan recently won the gold medal at the Asian Games, but he is focused on this event.  “It (the AAC) has always been my personal goal,” he said “I take it really seriously, it’s one of the best events in the world, it’s hosted in Asia, and this is where I come from. I want to play well and I want to win. That’s who I am. I just want to win no matter what happens.”

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Melbourne, Australia: Ryan Ruffels of Australia pictured at the 2104 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club during the practice round on October 20, 2014. (Photo by Brett Crockford/AAC)
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