Wellington, New Zealand – The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) is an individual tournament, and the biggest story about the ninth edition of that annual affair was the overall play of the winner, 17-year-old southpaw Yuxin Lin of China.
Though Lin came into the event ranked 338th in the world among amateurs, he was the only player in the field of 116 players to shoot four rounds in the 60s. His dramatic eagle on the 72nd hole, coming after he hit a 5-iron stiff from 216 yards, not only gave him a course-record 65 at the Royal Wellington Golf Club outside the New Zealand capital but also a three-stroke margin of victory over countryman Andy Zhang. Those were impressive feats, to be sure, and so was Lin’s 3-3-3 finish on the last three holes the final day of play after having fallen behind Zhang by a couple of strokes earlier in the second nine. Just as notable was the easy and articulate way that Lin, who has already played in 23 professionals tournaments and committed to attend the University of South California in 2019, answered questions from journalists after his win, in English and also his native tongue.
But there is also a team element to the AAC, with the players who make up the field representing countries and territories that are members of the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC). And Lin’s performance was simply the best among several other golfers from China, with 19-year-old University of Florida sophomore Andy Zhang finishing second, Yechun Yuan coming in third and 2015 Asia-Pacific Am champion Cheng Jin assuming sole possession of fifth place. That gave China four of the top five spots as it also gave notice to the greater golf world that the vast Asian land that has already produced a third of the victors in the short history of the AAC and is becoming a genuine force in the game. Guan Tianlang in 2012, at age 14, was the first Chinese winner and made the cut at Augusta.
“The way we finished shows that China is getting very good at golf,” said Zhang, who qualified for the 2012 U.S. Open when he was just 14 years old and remains the youngest to have ever play in that championship. He has lived in the United States since age 10.
And those are pleasing words to the Founding Partners of the AAC, which includes the Masters Tournament, the R&A and the APGC, for the primary reason for creating the Championship in 2009 was to spur development of golf throughout that region and elevate the quality of the play there.
The 2017 AAC certainly gave the gallery at Royal Wellington some elevated play, with Lin leading the way. Tall, sturdy and stoic, he opened with rounds of 69 and 67 that left him one shot back after 36 holes. But a third-round 69 lifted him into first place and a spot in the final group on Sunday with Zhang and Min Woo Lee of Australia, who is also the younger brother of three-time LPGA Tour winner Minjee Lee.
The teenagers from China got off to strong starts, with Zhang going out in 32 and Lin firing a 33. That left them tied after nine holes at 11-under, and they remained in that position after No. 16, a par 3 that they both parred. But then Lin got as hot as the thermals that proliferate throughout this South Pacific land. First, he birdied No. 17 after driving the 355-yard par 4. Then, he hit a 216-yard 5-iron on the par-5 18th. When he made that putt for eagle after Zhang’s bid for one of his own missed, Lin had a 3-3-3 finish and a course record 65 for the championship as well as an invitation to play in next year’s Masters and the 2018 British Amateur. His victory also came with an exemption into the Open Championship next July, the first time that offer has been extended to the winner of the AAC.
“I'm very, very, very happy that I can get a chance to play these majors,” said Lin, who is being home schooled in Beijing and keeps his game sharp by taking video lessons with his Arizona-based swing coach Boyd Summerhays. “I'm actually very proud of myself to be able to do it. And for next year, I think I will just try to enjoy it as much as possible.”
While China dominated the top of the leader board at this year’s AAC, credit for good play is also due to the New Zealanders, as five golfers from the host nation finished in the top 15, among them Daniel Hillier, who was T6, and also Kerry Mountcastle (ninth), Ryan Chisnall (T10), Nick Voke (T10) and Charlie Hillier (14th). With three Aussies and players representing Chinese Taipei, Thailand and Japan filling out the rest of those spots, the state of golf in the Asia-Pacific region appears to be quite good, and getting better.