The strong Australian contingent at the 11th Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) is eager to maintain their country’s successful run in international tournaments when the region’s premier amateur championship is played at Sheshan International Golf Club this week.
Gabriela Ruffels became the first Australian to win the U.S. Women’s Amateur title last month, followed by Lukas Michel’s triumph at the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship last week. Michel earned an invitation to the Masters next year, and that is just one of the rewards for the AAC champion in Shanghai, along with a spot in The 149th Open at Royal St George’s in 2020.
Traditionally boasting a strong contingent throughout the history of the AAC, Australia is represented this year by six players – World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) No. 4 David Micheluzzi, No. 11 Blake Windred, No. 45 Karl Vilips, No. 94 Jack Thompson, No. 108 Kyle Michel and No. 110 Nathan Barbieri.
Micheluzzi was quick to point out that both Ruffels and Lukas Michel were from Victoria, and that could be a good omen for him.
“Yeah, those two, both are from Victoria as well, so I know them very well. This week, it’s like you want to be…at the Masters. It’s pretty motivating. It’s good to see that Golf Australia is heading in the right direction. Hopefully, I get to join Michel in seven months’ time,” said the Melbourne resident, a semi-finalist at The Amateur Championship this year and a first-round leader at the 2018 AAC in Singapore, where he opened with a 64 and holed out for eagle on the par-4 18th.
Vilips, who made a great run at the U.S. Amateur before falling in the quarter-finals, added: “I think it really goes to show how the Australian game is developing at all levels, and it’s good to see everyone succeed in the level they get to…college, amateur or professional.”
If they do not win the AAC, both Micheluzzi and Windred are planning to turn professional soon after. However, that’s a decision they are willing to happily postpone for several months if they do manage to get their hands on the stunning trophy (the champion needs to retain his amateur status to play in the Masters and The Open).
The fact that an exciting future awaits them regardless of the result, should also help deflate any pressure and make a free run.
“This tournament, this is my second time playing it. It’s always awesome to come back, and the facilities and hospitality is always amazing. This is going to be probably my last event as an amateur,” said Micheluzzi.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure, to be honest. It’s like you win or you don’t. It’s a great opportunity just to test. We’re only playing golf here. We’re not playing for money…it’s all fun and games. At the end of the day, if you win, you get the ultimate prize. You get to play in majors.”
Windred added: “I feel like I kind of have a free run this week. It’s either you win and stay amateur or if you don’t, turn pro. I feel like there’s nothing to lose and everything to gain from this week.”
The 19-year-old Vilips, who is based in the United States, said reaching the quarter-finals of the U.S. Amateur has boosted his confidence ahead of his journey to Shanghai.
“Playing the U.S. Amateur was against such a high‑level field and I also had good results in a lot of the tournaments I played this summer. Heading into this week, the game feels like it’s trending the right direction,” he added.
“I didn’t have many finishes outside of the top 10, but also no wins. Hopefully, everything clicks together from this past summer and some good results will come.”