At 6:50a.m. Thursday morning, Hong Kong’s Motin Yeung struck a long-iron to the first hole at Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club to get the 2015 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) underway. Yeung’s shot drifted ever so slightly right of his intended target, the ball coming to rest on the apron that surrounds the putting surface of this demanding par-3. Not that it proved to be much of an issue for the strapping 22-year-old, who promptly chipped in for birdie. It was a strong start to a tournament that has itself gone from strength to strength since its inaugural staging in 2009.
“Creating Heroes” has been the AAC’s tagline since that first event, which was held at Mission Hills in Shenzhen, China, and the championship has undoubtedly lived up to that moniker. PGA Tour star Hideki Matsuyama, who won back-to-back AAC titles in 2010 and 2011, is undoubtedly the most notable product of the championship, which was first announced at a packed press conference in Hong Kong in early 2009. The sweet-swinging Japanese player comfortably made the cut on his two appearances as an amateur at the Masters Tournament, the reward that goes to the reigning AAC champion, before turning pro and going on to become the highest-ranked Asian player in the game.
And who could forget the phenomenal performance of China’s Guan Tianlang, who claimed a thrilling victory in the 2012 AAC at Thailand’s Amata Spring Country Club? Just a few months after that win, Guan made headlines around the world when, at the age of just 14, he became the youngest player in major championship history to make the cut thanks to a breathtaking performance at Augusta National.
At the annual Founding Partners Press conference Thursday, which once again brought together the organizer’s spokesmen from the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A, the influence this event had on the growth of golf in the region was a popular subject.
Dr. David Cherry, Chairman of the (APGC), said the role of the tournament in identifying exciting new talents has had a direct impact on the growth of the game across Asia-Pacific.
“The excitement across Asia-Pacific countries is overwhelming. In my wildest dreams, I never would have thought we would have had the success we’ve had,” said Dr. Cherry. “A 14-year-old winner from China, the success of Hideki Matsuyama at the Masters Tournament and Guan Tianlang at the Masters Tournament, has been inspirational to countries where golf is not even on the radar in terms of their major sports.
“So, for places like Cambodia, Mongolia, Nepal and Bhutan, where golf in not a primary sport, the possibility of playing in this event with some great players, and with the rewards that we have today, is seeing golf in Asia grow. I know it’s happening. We can see it.”
Mr. Billy Payne, Chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, admitted that the AAC’s success was far from guaranteed prior to its launch.
“I think it is fair to say that you start with uncertain expectations, but the certainty of significant effort, resources and experience in putting on golf tournaments,” said Mr. Payne. “In this particular case you start with the motivation of trying to expose a new generation of golfers in the Asia-Pacific region to this wonderful game, and you do it simply by creating heroes.”
Not that Mr. Payne, who has held his position at Augusta since 2006, believes the AAC has reached the peak of its influence.
“We are quite pleased. [But] we can always do better, and we intend to keep doing better.”