BANGKOK – Poom Saksansin and Natipong ‘James’ Srithong will spearhead the local Thai charge at this week’s fourth Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which begins on Thursday at Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi. Poom is Thailand’s top-ranked player and currently Asia’s No. 7 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, while Natipong is the continent’s No. 12.
Following the additions of Nirum Sae-ueng and Somprad Rattanasuwan, Thailand will have 10 representatives among the 120 players representing 36 member nations of the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation. All other nations can have up to six players depending on their ranking, while Thailand can have an additional four as the host nation.
The winner earns an invitation to the 2013 Masters Tournament, while the champion and runner(s)-up earn spots in next year’s International Final Qualifying for The Open Championship.
Poom, who won the Pattaya Open in May, believes local knowledge and home advantage will increase the chances of a Thai player winning the championship for the first time, following victories by Han Chang-won of Korea in 2009 and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who is competing this week, in 2010 and 2011.
“I’ve played at Amata Spring before and it’s a good golf course, so I’m excited to play here this week. It’s good for all us to play in Thailand in front of our own supporters. However, it doesn’t matter who’s in the crowd, I still have to focus, concentrate and practise to ensure I play well,” said Poom, who won the 2010 Putra Cup and finished fourth in this year’s event in August.
“I’m happy to play in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship again after competing in China and Japan the first two years. I had a great experience and met so many golfers – and saw so many good golf swings – from many different countries.”
Natipong could also be a contender after establishing himself as one of Southeast Asia’s top amateurs. In August, he finished runner-up in the Putra Cup, while last year he won the SEA Games individual gold medal in Indonesia, the Indonesia Amateur Open and Thailand Amateur Match Play.
Natipong finished 17th in Singapore last year in his Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship debut and is also enthusiastic, if a little nervous, about representing the host nation.
“I was really excited when I knew Thailand would host this year’s event. However, there can also be some pressure, because Thai people know me. It’s my first time competing at Amata Spring, but I know it’s a beautiful and challenging course, and one of the best in Thailand,” Natipong said.
“When I played in Singapore last year, I realised this is one of the biggest amateur events in Asia, featuring top players from all over the region. It was a very tough competition, which makes it great preparation for becoming a tour professional.”
Chanachoke Dejpiratanamongkol, who teamed up with Poom and Natipong to help Thailand win the SEA Games team gold, and Chirat Jirasuwan will also play in the Championship for the second straight year.
Nattawat Suvajanakorn, Thailand’s top finisher in this month’s World Amateur Team Championship, will make his debut along with Danthai Boonma, winner of this year’s Lion City Cup. Nirum, Somprad, Nanfa Somnuek and Prin Sirisommai are Thailand’s other first-time competitors.
Matsuyama, second-ranked Pan Cheng-tsung of Chinese Taipei, Nadaraja Thangaraja of Sri Lanka, and Indian duo Khalin Joshi and Senapaa Chikkarangappa are among the highest-ranked contenders.
Andy Shim Hyeon-bo, the current U.S. Junior Amateur champion, and Lee Soo-min, last year’s runner-up, are among a strong Korean contingent, while Oliver Goss, Cameron Smith and Brett Drewitt are among leading Australians.
Television coverage will include two hours of live broadcast on each of the four days and a 30-minute highlights show, and will be aired in more than 150 countries, confirming it as the world’s most televised amateur golf tournament.
STAR Sports will broadcast live coverage on all four days in Thailand (3.00pm-5.00pm) and many other countries and territories across Asia. Tokyo Broadcasting System (Japan), SBS Golf (Korea), Guangdong Golf Channel (China), Fox Sports (Australia), Sky Sports (New Zealand) and Fox Sports (Middle East) will cover other key markets in the Asia-Pacific region.
The championship will be shown live in the United States (4.00am-6.00am Eastern Time) on ESPNU (November 1-2) and then ESPN2 (November 3-4). Other broadcasters include ESPN (Latin America), Supersport (Africa), TSN (Canada) and CNBC Europe. All of the coverage will also be streamed live on the official event Web site, www.AACgolf.com.