WELLINGTON, New Zealand – China’s Lin Yuxin, 17, won the ninth Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship on Sunday at Royal Wellington Golf Club to secure spots in the 2018 Masters Tournament and The 147th Open at Carnoustie. In front of large crowds, the left-hander birdied the 17th hole and eagled 18 to card a six-under-par 65 and finish 14-under, three ahead of compatriot Andy Zhang (67), who was rewarded with a place in The Open Qualifying Series.
Yuan Yechun (68) and Australia’s Min Woo Lee (71) – younger brother of LPGA star Minjee Lee – shared third place at seven-under, one ahead of 2015 champion Jin Cheng (65), also of China.
The Beijing-based Lin, who turned 17 on October 12, is the third Chinese player to win the championship following victories by Guan Tianlang in 2012, aged 14, and Jin, who was 17 when he won.
“I’m very, very happy I got the chance to win this event and play two majors,” said Lin, who trailed Zhang for much of the round. “I’m very proud of myself. It means a lot to me to play in the Masters and The Open next year. It’s a great experience.”
“Andy played really solid today,” Lin said. “He didn’t make a single mistake until 15. His iron shots were really good and he made a lot of putts. I actually thought it might not be my day, but I had a good finish.
“I was just trying to stay aggressive and hit as many drivers as I could. Even though I wasn’t playing that well for 12 holes, I still stuck with that plan. Andy is a very steady player, but I had to stay aggressive and get birdies.”
Lin started the day at eight-under, one ahead of playing partners Lee and Zhang, China’s top-ranked amateur. And it was Zhang, the 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Florida, who quickly took control with birdies at one and three to take the lead, which he held for much of the round.
Both Zhang and Lin birdied the par-five fourth, and the two Beijing-born Chinese players also birdied six to move to 11-under and 10-under, respectively. Lin birdied eight but from the 10th went bogey-birdie-bogey to stay one behind after 12 holes.
Zhang doubled his lead with a birdie at 13, but Lin bounced back with a crucial birdie at the next hole. When Zhang bogeyed 15, the pair drew even at 11-under and remained level with two holes to play. That’s when Lin’s power game and self-confidence came into play.
The solidly built teen drove the green at the 361-yard, par-four 17th to set up a tap-in birdie. On the par-five 18th, he smashed his drive down the middle of the fairway then watched as his stunning five-iron from 216 yards landed just six feet from the flag, holing the putt for an eagle three and punching the air in victory.
“I was definitely trying to drive it on the green at 17 and put some pressure on Andy,” Lin said. “I hit a really good drive pin high so I was pretty satisfied.
“On 18, I was going to hit a four-iron because it was a bit into the wind, but then I thought it might roll over the green, so I hit a five. I thought it was a bit short but it turned out that it was pretty good.”
Zhang, who competed in the U.S. Open at the age of 14, was playing with Lin for the first time in competition and was full of praise for his younger compatriot.
“For Lin Yuxin to finish three-three-three and to match the course record, you can’t really argue with that,” said Zhang, who has been based in Florida since he was 10. “He played very well and I needed my best but I didn’t have my absolute best.”
“It shows you how good China is getting at golf,” Zhang explained. “The next generation is coming up and China will be a big country up there.”
Two years after winning the title in Hong Kong, Jin – who played in last year’s Masters Tournament – was among Lin’s teammates congratulating the champion on the 18th green.
“He’s going to be the third amateur to represent China at Augusta National (and the first to play in The Open), and it’s going to be a great honor for our country,” said Jin. “Lin’s a really good junior golfer and as he grows up he’s getting better and better. He’s going to be a great player.”
Nick Voke, New Zealand’s top-ranked amateur, carded a 69 to finish three-under and was among four locals to finish in the top 10.
“What an absolutely incredible week, right from the start,” Voke said. “Words can’t do justice to how good it was. I was talking to Frank Nobilo last night and we were talking about playing in your home country, playing in front of all the crowds, and having such a prestigious event come here. It was incredible, not only for myself and the team, but for the country. You should have seen the crowds out there today and yesterday. Words can’t describe it.”
Royal Wellington’s Daniel Hiller was New Zealand’s top finisher, sharing sixth place at five-under with Chinese Taipei’s Yu Chun-an and Australia’s Shae Wools-Cobb. Kerry Mountcastle, also a Royal Wellington member, was alone in ninth at four-under.
The AAC is organised by three Founding Partners – the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and The R&A. This week’s event featured 116 players from 38 APGC member associations. Television coverage included three hours of live broadcast on each of the four days and a 30-minute highlights show, and was aired in more than 160 countries, once again making it the world’s most televised amateur golf tournament.