It seems appropriate that 10 years after one of the most unforgettable editions in the history of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC), the region’s premier championship is returning to Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand, from October 27-30.
The class of 2012 has graduated to become one of the most successful in the professional ranks in the 13-year history of the AAC. While each of the 12 previous championships has produced remarkable winners, the 2012 field at Amata Spring has set the bar of professional success.
Two-time champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (2010 and 2011) was already a superstar and entered the championship seeking a third straight victory. There was also the Australian Cameron Smith, who finished fourth in 2011 – three shots behind Matsuyama – and sought to earn his biggest amateur victory to date.
However, the hushed voices in the locker room, despite the unquestioned pedigrees of Matsuyama and Smith, were reserved for Australian Oliver Goss.
“Of course, Hideki was a big star, but the name on everyone’s lips that year was Goss,” said India’s Udayan Mane, who himself went on to become one of three Order of Merit (OoM) champions in the domestic Professional Golf Tour of India among the six Indians in the field that year – a feat never repeated. Mane (T-33 that year) won the PGTI Rolex OoM in 2021. Khalin Joshi (T-14 in Thailand and PGTI OoM winner in 2018) and S Chikkarangappa (12th in 2012 and PGTI OoM winner in 2015) were his teammates.
“I don’t think we heard the name of Tianlang Guan as we prepared for the tournament. And yet, it was the 14-year-old who won despite being one of the shortest off the tee. It was a great lesson to all of us that you can play a golf course and win in various ways,” added Mane.
Goss went on to finish third that week, three shots behind Guan and two behind another future superstar of the sport – Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan. Matsuyama finished fourth – his only AAC appearance without a victory – while Smith finished T-7. Future PGA Tour members Brett Drewitt (Australia) and Zecheng Dou (China) also finished inside the top 20 at T-7 and T-18, respectively.
After winning the 2012 AAC at Amata Spring, Guan rewrote the record books at Augusta National Golf Club the following spring by becoming the youngest player to compete in, and make the cut at, the Masters Tournament at the age of 14. Matsuyama went on to win the 2021 Masters, while Smith triumphed at The 150th Open at St Andrews. Pan, already a winner on the PGA Tour, claimed the bronze medal for Chinese Taipei in the 2021 Tokyo Olympics after winning a seven-man playoff that included Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa.
“Winning the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship at Amata Spring 10 years ago is undoubtedly one of the best memories in my golf career,” said Guan, who shot rounds of 72 and 71 over the weekend but managed to stay ahead of a fast-charging Pan (65 on Sunday). “With that win, I got my invitation for the Masters and successfully made the cut, which changed my life in so many ways and, at the same time, enhanced my knowledge and understanding of golf to a much higher level.
“This year, the AAC returns to Amata Spring after a decade and I hope my fellow Chinese friends will do well here and bring the trophy back to the country again,” added Guan.
Of course, a prerequisite to an unforgettable championship is a great field and an equally impressive battlefield. Very few golf courses can present a challenge like the par-72 Amata Spring, which stretches more than 6,675 metres. Hole 17, a par-3 measuring approximately 150 yards and featuring a true island green, is one of the most unique holes in all of Asia. The floating green can be adjusted to different lengths through an underwater pulley system and can only be accessed through boats.
“Amata Spring as a host venue is a championship-level course that is definitely going to test the players,” said Mike McKenna, Deputy General Manager and Superintendent at Amata Spring. “It’s going to give them an introduction to championship golf and get them ready for professional careers by showing them the golf course standards that they will get used to if they turned pro. The aspect that's going to be a challenge is holing putts. Being able to read putts on these greens. The golf course is long enough to test them, but it's always going to come down to putting.”
A new champion is set to be crowned after the 2021 winner in Dubai, Japan’s Keita Nakajima, turned professional this month. Among the 120 players in the field from 40 countries, is China’s Wenyi Ding, the reigning US Junior Amateur champion, and World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) No. 10, Ratchanon “TK” Chantananuwat, the highest-ranked player in the field. The 15-year-old Thai star became the youngest male player to win on one of the game’s major tours in April this year when he won the Asian Tour’s Trust Golf Asian Mixed Cup.