The Uniting Power of Golf

One is a 51-year-old restaurant owner whose country’s golfing population numbers less than a hundred, the other is a 15-year-old phenom who made history as the youngest player to ever tee it up in a European Tour event – their pathways to the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship could hardly be more different, but Aidarali Asanov from Kyrgyzstan and China’s Ye Wo-cheng share a common bond: an overwhelming love of golf.

It is fair to suggest that Kyrgyzstan has yet to really take to the game. The Central Asian nation, which only attained sovereignty after the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, has just one nine-hole course and even fewer golf instructors. With his single-figure handicap, Asanov is comfortably the country’s most accomplished player.

“There are no coaches – everyone who plays is self-taught, so you see a lot of ‘hacker’ swings,” explains the jovial Asanov, who is making his second AAC appearance after playing in the 2011 edition in Singapore. “Everyone,” it should be noted, does not amount to many. “There are around 30 locals who play. If you include expats, there are maybe 70 golfers in Kyrgyzstan.”

Located in the southern outskirts of Bishkek, the country’s capital, the Maple Leaf Golf and Country Club is where Asanov hones his game. Established 15 years ago by a Canadian company, the course is an attractive if somewhat rudimentary parkland-style layout that lies in the shadow of the imposing Kyrgyz Aloo-Too mountain range. “Our greens are like the tee boxes here,” continues Asanov, pointing to Clearwater Bay’s superbly manicured 10th tee. “But we have a lot of fun.”

Asanov, who serves as Vice President of the Kyrgyzstan Golf Federation, is refreshingly realistic about his chances of success this week: “I’ll try to keep up with the young guys, but if I manage to do better than before, I’ll be happy,” he grins, before heading off to join Papua New Guinea’s two representatives for Tuesday’s practice round.

Ye, by contrast, is setting his sights significantly higher.

The youngest player in the 120-man field, Ye hopes to follow in the footsteps of his compatriot Guan Tianlang, who memorably claimed the 2012 AAC in Thailand before going on to become the youngest player in major championship history to make the cut when he achieved the feat at the Masters Tournament the following spring.

“Guan and I played together in practice today and I’m learning a lot from him,” says the ever-polite Ye, who qualified for the 2013 China Open at the tender age of 12. “Knowing that he has won this tournament before gives me confidence. He’s given me a lot of advice, which I’m thankful for.”

Ye, who hails from China’s southern Guangdong province, now attends school in Orlando, Fla., and is clearly relishing the move across the Pacific, having claimed victory at an American Junior Golf Association event hosted by Justin Rose earlier this year, in addition to a slew of other top finishes.

“I’m playing pretty good, I really like the golf course and I’m going to try my best to win,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’m looking forward to a great week.”