Two of the world’s leading men’s amateur golfers, Keita Nakajima and Yuxin Lin, lived up to all expectations in Wednesday’s opening round of the 12th Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.
Nakajima, the World No. 1 amateur from Japan, and Lin, the two-time AAC champion from China, sit with a share of the lead among a group of seven players tied at four-under-par 67.
Teeing off together at 09:05 local time, Lin and Nakajima could not have had more different starts to their rounds. Lin opened with a bogey, while Nakajima started with a birdie then made a double bogey on the very next hole when his tee shot went out of bounds by inches.
Undeterred by the setback, the Japanese star fought back with six birdies in the next 11 holes to claim sole possession of the lead at one stage, before a late bogey on the 16th pegged him back.
The bogey on the first was Lin’s only error. He made four birdies before the turn and added another on the 17th hole.
Joining Lin and Nakajima at the top of the leaderboard is Hong Kong’s Alexander Yang, who notched up two eagles, two bogeys and finished with two closing birdies. New Zealand’s Jimmy Zheng, Korea’s Wooyoung Cho, WAGR No. 14 Sam Choi of Korea and Lukas Michel, the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion from Australia, round out the group of seven tied for first after today’s opening round.
Australia’s Hayden Hopewell, Hong Kong’s Taichi Kho, China’s Aaron Du and Chinese Taipei’s Chi-Chun Chen finished T-8 at three under par as 33 players broke par on a windy day.
Lin, winner of the AAC in 2017 and 2019, said: “I thought I played pretty solid today. It was not the best start, but I stayed pretty patient out there and hit some good shots on the front nine.
“I am just trying to stick to the game plan and just stay patient out there. Everyone is going to make mistakes, so just stay calm and ready for the next shot and really just give my everything on every shot.”
Nakajima, who is the same age as Lin (21), made a good start to his campaign as he bids to become the third Japanese player to win the AAC title after Hideki Matsuyama (2010 and 2011) and Takumi Kanaya (2018).
“I was very happy with the way I managed the golf course today. That’s something I want to keep on doing. The putting was also good. I made some good ones and then I missed a few short ones,” said Nakajima.
“I really enjoyed playing with Yuxin. He made some good birdies on the front nine and I also followed him. I did not pay attention to his scores but if I am tied with the defending champion, it’s always a good thing. There’s a lot of golf to be played so we will see.”
Home Hopes Alive
UAE’s Ahmad Skaik, the top-ranked player in the country, had the honor of hitting the inaugural tee shot of the championship. He finished with a creditable two-under-par 69 made even more impressive by his efforts to manage a neck injury.
A bogey on the tough closing hole, where he found water with his tee shot, left a sour aftertaste, as a three-under-par round would have been the best ever by a UAE player in the history of the championship (Ahmed Al Musharrekh, 2011, second round).
“I am happy with the round. It’s a shame I finished with a bogey but I felt in control of my game throughout. I had a couple of good birdie chances in the first five holes but did not make them, and a couple coming in which I could not convert either,” said Skaik.
“I have been practicing with my injury. Lots of painkillers and massages. The last six months have been terrible with injuries. It started with a wrist injury followed by left knee and now the neck. I’ve probably played and practiced for the last ten days in these six months.”
Created in 2009, the AAC was established to further develop amateur golf in the Asia-Pacific region. The champion receives an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament and The Open, while the runner(s)-up gain a place in Final Qualifying for The Open.
The 2020 AAC was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 championship marks the first edition held in the UAE, one of the APGC’s 42 member countries, and joins the numerous professional and amateur events Dubai hosts annually, including the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic and DP World Tour Championship.
Over the AAC’s 12-year history, the championship has served as a springboard to some of the world’s top players today, including Matsuyama, a two-time AAC winner and 2021 Masters champion.