October 24, 2017: Sydney duo Travis Smyth and Harrison Endycott head into this week’s ninth Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) in New Zealand as the two top-ranked players and among six Australians bidding to succeed compatriot Curtis Luck, who secured victory in South Korea last year.
No. 12 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), the in-form Smyth is fresh from winning last month’s Northern Territory PGA Championship, a PGA TOUR of Australasia pro event, by six strokes.
The tall 22-year-old followed in the footsteps of Luck and Brett Coletta – first and second in last year’s AAC – as well as Oliver Goss as amateurs to have won on the pro circuit.
Smyth is now favourite to succeed Luck as AAC champion, boosted also by a summer tour of the United States, where he finished fourth at the Porter Cup in New York and reached the quarter-finals of the US Amateur in California.
“I’ve played better and better as the year has gone on. My form has been steadily on the upward trend,” said Smyth, who tied for 12th and 15th in the last two AACs in Hong Kong and Korea.
“In early September, I won a pro event that gave me status on the Australasia tour, so my form’s very good coming into this week.”
Smyth leads an Australia contingent all within the top 70 of the WAGR, making them by far the highest-ranked country at Royal Wellington Golf Club, where the champion will earn spots in the 2018 Masters Tournament and The 147th Open at Carnoustie.
Worryingly for their rivals, the Australia team spent a few days playing Royal Wellington last month in a friendly match against New Zealand in preparation for the AAC. Even more worryingly for the competition, the design fits Smyth’s game.
“It definitely suits my game because you can’t really afford to miss it left and I don’t have a tendency to miss it left,” said Smyth, who was full of praise for the course, which has been set up as a 6,845-yard, par-71 layout this week.
“It’s a proper championship-style course so you’ve got to do everything pretty well. From what I hear, it could be wet, so good target golf will get it done and there’s no tricks around that. You’ve just got to play well.”
Currently World No. 14, Endycott – who last year won five amateur titles including the Porter Cup – played with Smyth in the US over the summer and was bullish about Australia’s chances.
Teammates Dylan Perry, runner-up in The Amateur Championship in June, Min Woo Lee, the 2016 US Junior Amateur champion, Shae Wools-Cobb and Charlie Dann are making their AAC debut.
Last year Australians occupied three of the top four places and Endycott believes there’s a strong chance the AAC trophy will remain in Aussie hands.
“Last year we were favourites but every year’s a little different. All the Aussie guys here have had their fair share of playing well this year. We’ve all prepped extremely well for this week, so hopefully one of us will win,” said Endycott, who tied for 26th in Korea.
“We came over here not long ago and got familiar with the golf course, so we feel very comfortable. It’s also nice to play internationally and not get jetlagged! We’ll be feeling good out there this week.”
Endycott, 21, played down Wellington’s windy reputation, saying that he and his teammates are familiar with such conditions.
“We’re used to the wind. We’re very fortunate back home as we get a little bit of everything. We’ve also played a lot over in Europe and it is similar conditions over there, so coming to play over here is nothing new to us,” he said.
“It’s still going to be a challenge but we’re going to try to attack it the best way we can. However, the wind is a little bit cold, so that does have an impact on the carry of the ball. It’s going to challenge your creativity. We’re looking forward to it.”
Antonio Murdaca was the first Australian to claim the AAC, winning at Royal Melbourne in 2014, and Endycott sounded a warning to the rest of the field as Team Australia look to edge ahead of China, Japan and South Korea, other countries whose players have won twice.
“Hopefully we’ll keep the trophy in Australia. We’re going out with full intentions – no mercy out there this week,” Endycott said. “We’ve all been working extremely hard and can’t wait to play. It’s going to be a good week.”
Indian teen Rayhan Thomas is the field’s third-ranked player at World No. 26, Yu Chun-an (World No. 34) is Chinese Taipei’s top-ranked player, Andy Zhang (World No. 39) leads a China line-up featuring former champions Jin Cheng (2015) and Guan Tianlang (2012), while Nick Voke (World No. 44) is New Zealand’s top-ranked player.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) is organised by the Founding Partners – Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A – and will be televised across 160 countries and reach millions of homes around the world.
The Championship is also supported by six Proud Partners – AT&T, 3M, Mercedes-Benz, Samsung, Zurich and UPS – and two Scoring Partners, Rolex and IBM.