SHANGHAI – The Founding Partners of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship hailed the growing depth of the field – highlighted by fact that this year’s championship features a reigning world No. 1 for the first time in its 11-year history – and praised the effort and ambition of players from developing countries to get better.
The region’s premier amateur championship – co-founded by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A in 2009 – is being held at the Sheshan International Golf Club this week, with Japan’s Takumi Kanaya starting his title defense having climbed back to the top spot in the World Amateur Golf Rankings (WAGR).
The AAC is now one of the five ‘elite’ WAGR events and has an impressive Roll of Honour that includes Japanese superstar Hideki Matsuyama (champion in both 2010 and 2011), China’s Guan Tianlang (2012) and Australia’s Curtis Luck (2016).
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the tournament, Fred Ridley, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club and the Masters Tournament, said: “If you think back to 2009, the stated goal of this championship was to provide a world‑class, competitive experience on some of the greatest venues in this part of the world, and we think that certainly happened. By doing so, the young men who were coming here from all over the region would go back home as role models for youngsters in their parts of the world and hopefully stimulate interest.
“We now have some really good data points that support what this championship has done. In 2009, we had 29 participating countries and territories, and that has increased over the past ten years to 42. If you look at the strength of the field, that’s another compelling indicator. We had zero players in the top 20 of the World Amateur Golf Rankings when this championship started. Today, we have five players in the top 20, three in the top 10, and our defending champion, Takumi Kanaya, was elevated to the No. 1 ranking in the WAGR yesterday.
“When you look at that and some of the accomplishments of what I call the AAC alumni – Hideki Matsuyama, C.T. Pan, Cameron Smith – these are players who will be playing on the Presidents Cup this year, and that was unimaginable ten years ago.
“I think all in all, we’ve seen a lot of good that’s come out of this championship, and we just look forward with a lot of enthusiasm to the next decade.”
While the top players have become stronger, Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said it was important that the Founding Partners keep trying to improve the standard of the weaker golf nations.
“I have always said that for me, it’s as important who wins as who plays in the bottom half of the field and how well they play,” said Slumbers.
“While I will be extremely pleased to see the better players go on and play well, I’m as excited about the bottom end of the field getting better and better. This region will become an ever-greater force in the game, whether it’s the men’s game or the women’s game, and I think that’s excited.
“I think that what the Masters Tournament and The R&A bring to the table is not just the opportunity to play in the Masters and The Open, but we bring our experience of running two of the finest golf championships in the world. And that, together with the APGC’s connection with golf, created something of an opportunity that players could never have dreamt about having before this championship started.”
In an effort to develop the players from countries where golf is not very popular, the Founding Partners organized a week-long AAC Academy for 12 players from six countries in Singapore’s Sentosa Golf in June this year.
“We did the Academy for the first time this year. If you look at the big countries, they have a machine for developing great players. But for some of the smaller countries, they don’t have that opportunity,” Slumbers added.
“So, we took these players to Sentosa Golf Club for a week. We brought some of the best coaches, nutritionists and sports scientists from around the region and we exposed the players to all of that coaching. Our total intention was – can we help them move up and give them the skills to be able to fulfil their own destiny and their own skill level?
“Two of the players (Quang Anh Dang of Vietnam and Pyae Phyo Thu of Myanmar) have already gone up a thousand places in ranking. I hear a couple of them are scoring quite well out there at the moment.
“That is the first year, and we’ll see how that develops. But if we can make that work, what a fantastic additional legacy this championship can deliver to Asia Pacific that will bring other countries up.”
Kei Muratsu, Chairman of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, thanked Augusta National Golf Club and The R&A and added: “Their hard work has contributed greatly to the growth and development of this championship, and for that we are very appreciative.
“The legacy that this championship and these players leave for the next generation of golfers is just as significant as the play on the course. The collective goal of the Founding Partners is to help develop the game and inspire the greater participation throughout the region.
“As we come together for the start of the 11th edition, we are confident that the future of the sport has never been stronger in the Asia Pacific.”
The AAC champion earns an invitation to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club and a place in The 149th Open at Royal St George’s in 2020, provided he retains his amateur status. The runner(s)-up will gain a spot in The Open Qualifying Series.
The Championship is supported by five Proud Partners – 3M, AT&T, Delta, Mercedes-Benz and UPS – and two Scoring Partners, Rolex and IBM.