It’s no great surprise for a 16-year-old golfer to name Rory McIlroy as one of his favourite players growing up but the second name Anh Minh Nguyen suggests is clear proof that the Vietnamese is cut from a different cloth.
It’s Nguyen’s second AAC appearance (tied 48th in 2022), and secures the best finish by a Vietnamese player in the championship's history. The previous record was in 2016 when Chi Quan Truong finished tied 46th. Going into Sunday’s final round, Nguyen is tied 14th at seven-over par.
“I have always loved the swing and the power and the personality of Rory. He is definitely the one that I idolize. And the second golfer I have always looked up to is Jack Nicklaus,” said Nguyen after his battling third-round 70, one of only four players to break par on a tough Saturday at Royal Melbourne.
Nicklaus? Really? That’s a little hard to believe coming from someone born 21 years after the Golden Bear won his sixth Masters green jacket and the last of his 18 major titles in 1986.
“I actually looked up to Mr Nicklaus first. My dad introduced me to him when I started playing golf. He would show me his videos every night after our dinner,” said Nguyen, winner of this year’s Faldo Series Asia Grand Finals.
“We would watch the videos and then I completely fell in love with his nickname – the Golden Bear. And I also like the golf courses he has designed. One of my favourites is PGA National where they used to play the Honda Classic. I loved the closing stretch there which they call the ‘Bear Trap’. That is one tough finishing stretch and I was fascinated how it challenged the top players.”
Not only does Nguyen have Nicklaus as his idol, he also has a keen eye for golf course designs and features. That may be one of the reasons why he has performed so well at Royal Melbourne.
“I heard so much about Royal Melbourne before I came here. People would come and tell me stuff like how difficult it is and how you need to play a different kind of golf to do well here,” said Nguyen, who is now ranked 161st in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, the highest ever position for a golfer from Vietnam.
“Attending the AAC Academy in Amata Spring earlier this year was a great preparation for Royal Melbourne. Obviously, Amata Spring is a very different golf course but the coaches that we had showed us videos of Royal Melbourne holes and how we needed to do things slightly differently here.
“They made us chip up the hill with three-woods and seven-irons. And I can see now why we needed to learn those shots. So far I have not used a three-wood although I hit one chip with an eight-iron which was cool.”
The lowest round of his short career so far is a 64, back home in Vietnam.
“That 70 on Saturday was way, way better than that 64. We hardly get any wind in Vietnam in the northern part. I could take dead aim at every pin and just fire at them. If you are having a good day a 64 is easy to shoot. But to make a 70 here and in the conditions we had with the greens firming up a lot you need to play your best golf. And you need to play very smart golf,” said Nguyen.
“I greatly enjoyed the round. Those were very tough, brutal conditions. In a way, the greens were tougher than the first day when it was raining and cold and windy. They have become rock solid and it’s very difficult to hold the balls. It is easily the toughest round of golf that I have played so far.”