Samoan Player Soaks Up the Experience

By Martin Blake

Niko Vui was disappointed in his golf, to say the least. But for the Samoan golfer and University of Nebraska freshman, this week was about logging experience, as it is for quite a few of the players from non-traditional golfing countries at the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship.

A second-round 79 today at Royal Melbourne after a fine, opening 75 in the windy Thursday afternoon conditions left Vui just inside the cut line, meaning that he will have another two days to play at a world class venue.

The Pacific island of Samoa (population around 200,000) is better known in sporting terms for producing immense rugby players.  “There’s more rugby players by far,” Vui said. “It’s the biggest sport in Samoa, and I’m the only kid my age who plays golf. So I was a bit of a loner at school, but I’m 150 pounds lighter than I need to be for rugby. I’m a bit on the scrawny side.”

At an early age the Vui family knew they had a golfer on their hands. Gary Vui, Niko’s father, is a scratch marker himself at Royal Samoa Country Club. “At about 1 1/2 years old mum and dad knew that I had a talent for golf,” said Niko Vui. “There are only three golf clubs in Samoa, and Royal Samoa is basically the only one that’s playable. When I was eight, dad decided to start coaching me, and the rest is history.

Vui is a fine player. He has played the AAC three times now, and recently he took up a scholarship with the University of Nebraska in Lincoln to play golf and study at the educational institution famous for having one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffett, as part of its alumni.

“It’s been awesome,” he said. “The guys are great and the golf is immaculate.”

Royal Melbourne unravelled his game, though, especially on the back nine today where he made a calamitous triple-bogey six at the par-three 16th, almost leaving a shot in the greenside bunker. Four birdies on his second nine retrieved his respectability, though. “This course is definitely not a give-away,” he said. “You have to earn every shot you have.”

Ironically he played much better on Thursday in the two-club wind. “It’s funny, I would say it was more fun on Thursday because you focus more. You have to focus. I feel like when it gets down to grinding, I can grind.”

His father Gary, who was carrying his bag today, tried to lift his spirits but Vui found himself in the depths of despair all golfers know only too well. But he fought back with four birdies on the front side to put some respectability into his score.

“Dad was out there trying to pump me up,” said Vui. “My hat goes off to him for trying to get me up there. He knows that I have the potential to do what I can do, it’s just my attitude, beating myself up. It’s not hard to do.”

While the AAC offers a spot in the Masters at Augusta National to the winner, as well as a place in the field for final qualifying at the Open Championship in St Andrews, it is just as much about the experienced gained by the likes of Vui, and the growth of the game in a place like Samoa.

Thirty-five countries from the region were represented this week, and the chairman of the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, Dr David Cherry, has put on record how important the tournament has become in its six years in terms of promoting and growing the game.

Each country can nominate a minimum of two players with a playing handicap of 5.4 or less, and up to six players based on the world amateur rankings.

“But just in those very small countries — Cambodia, Nepal, Bhutan, Mongolia — the excitement to be one of those two players is significantly increased the competition within those countries, and so this event has truly grown the game of golf in the Asia-Pacific region,” said Dr Cherry this week.

The R & A secretary, Mr Peter Dawson, said the AAC “demonstrates just how global the game of golf is”.

The AAC is achieving its stated aim, and growing with every year. Said the Augusta National Chairman Mr Billy Payne this week: “I must say that had you asked me six years ago would it have acquired this stature so soon, I probably would have said: ‘I doubt it’. But I’m here to rejoice over the fact that it has.”

Melbourne, Australia: Todd Sinnott of Australia pictured at the 2104 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club during round 01 on October 23, 2014. (Photo by Brett Crockford/AAC)
Melbourne, Australia: Antonio Murdaca of Australia plays to the 4th green during round 2 of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club). October 24 2014, (photo by Dave Tease/AAC)