Written by Joy Chakravarty
China’s defending champion Yuxin Lin will aim for an unprecedented third Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) title, but for that to happen, he will have to beat the in-form Japanese world No.1 Keita Nakajima and the cream of region’s talent at the 12th edition of the championship, set to be held 3-6 November 2021 at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The 21-year-old Beijing-born Lin won his first title in 2017 at Royal Wellington by three shots after closing with a birdie and an eagle, and then reclaimed the crown from Japan’s Takumi Kanaya when he defeated him in a playoff for the 2019 tournament at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.
Now in his junior year at University of Florida, the southpaw, ranked No. 20 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), will try to become the first player in the history of the championship to win three times. Lin and Japan’s reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (2010 and 2011) are the only players to have won multiple AAC titles.
“It would be a dream-come-true if I can win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship for a third time. To be already placed in the same bracket as Hideki Matsuyama as two-time champion is surreal, so to get one ahead would be amazing,” said Lin, who already has prior experience of playing in the UAE, having finished tied for 30th in the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship last year.
“It is the biggest tournament in our part of the world and I know how much each contestant would be eager to get their hands on the trophy, and the subsequent invitation to the Masters and the 150th Open Championship at St Andrews next year. It will be a tough task, but I will give it my best shot.”
While Lin is currently eyeing a return to form with his last win coming in March 2020 at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, Nakajima has been an unstoppable force in his home country. In his last three starts, he has won the Japan Amateur Championship, followed by last week’s triumph at the Panasonic Open against a quality field of professionals on the Japan Golf Tour.
Nakajima, who came close to winning the AAC in 2018 in Singapore where he was a co-leader going into the final round but his fine 67 was upstaged by compatriot and best friend Kanaya (65), won the Mark McCormack Medal in August this year for being the top-ranked amateur in the world. He took over the world’s pole position from Kanaya after the latter turned pro in 2020.
With most amateur tournaments in Asia-Pacific region cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 21-year-old Nippon Sport Science University student has relied on playing against professionals the last couple of years. Apart from his recent Panasonic Open win, he also finished second in Token Homemate Cup in April (finishing one stroke behind Kanaya) and third in last year’s Mitsui Sumitomo Taiheiyo Masters.
Nakajima, who said he cried on the day Kanaya decided to turn pro, added: “I am a college-going amateur so it is an honour that I get the chance of playing against the professionals. I feel it provides me with a great challenge to compete against them and that it has helped me become a better player.
“Of course, my confidence is high because of the win, but I know I will still have to play at my best in Dubai to be in contention on the final day. I want to be with Hideki san when he defends his Masters title next year, so this is my best chance to fulfil that dream and get to play alongside him at Augusta National Golf Club,” added Nakajima who is already assured of a spot at next year’s Open Championship and the U.S. Open as a result of winning the McCormack Medal.
Created in 2009 by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A, the AAC was established to further develop amateur golf in the 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, scheduled to be held at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia, was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 championship will mark the first edition held in the UAE, one of the APGC’s 42 member countries, and will join the numerous professional and amateur events Dubai hosts annually, including the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic and DP World Tour Championship.
Opened in 1993, Dubai Creek’s Championship Course features an 18-hole, par-71 layout originally designed by Karl Litten before its redesign in 2004 led by Thomas Bjorn. The course has previously hosted the 1999 and 2000 Dubai Desert Classic and the Mena Tour’s Dubai Creek Open, where 2018 AAC runner-up Rayhan Thomas shot a course-record 61 in 2017.
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, Australia’s Cameron Smith and Chinese Taipei’s C.T. Pan, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year.