Singapore – It was hard not to think of two-time Asia-Pacific Amateur winner Hideki Matsuyama when Takumi Kanaya made his par putt on the 72nd hole of the 2018 tournament on the New Tanjong layout at the Sentosa Golf Club to capture the championship and an invitation to play in the 2019 Masters Tournament.
After all, both golfers hail from Japan, and the 20-year-old Kanaya is studying at the same school Matsuyama attended, Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, and working with the same golf coach. And with his win here, Kanaya became the first player from Japan to take this championship since Matsuyama did so in 2011, which also happens to be the last time the AAC was staged in Singapore.
Clearly, Matsuyama, who has won five times on the PGA Tour, 13 times worldwide and been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world since turning pro in 2013, was thinking of Kanaya when the amateur shot a 5-under par 65 for a final 13-under score of 267. That gave him a two-shot win over countryman Keita Nakajima and Rayhan Thomas of India. Matsuyama called Kanaya as the youngster was walking off the green and heading to the clubhouse for the trophy presentation.
"Hideki congratulated me, and he said he looked forward to playing together (in a practice round) at Augusta next year," Kanaya said. "I want to do well, like Hideki did," he added, referring to Matsuyama earning the Silver Medal for Low Amateur in 2011.
In addition to the invitation to play in next year’s Masters, Kanaya received exemptions into the 148th Open at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland next July as well as the British Amateur, which will be held at the Portmarnock and Island Golf Clubs outside Dublin. As runners-up, Thomas and Nakajima were awarded places in the Open Qualifying Series for the 2019 Open.
A native of Hiroshima who came into the AAC as the 22nd-ranked amateur golfer in the world, Kanaya certainly played well at Sentosa. He used the momentum from winning two top amateur tournaments this summer and a second-place individual finish in the World Amateur Team Championships to post back-to-back 69s to place 15th after 36 holes, six back of the leaders Lloyd Jefferson Go of the Philippines and China’s Cheng Jin, who won this event in 2015. Then Kanaya kicked his game into high gear, first with a third-round 64 that put him in third place with Nakajima, who is the reigning Australian Amateur champion and the gold medalist at this year’s Asian Games, and also into the last group on Sunday with China’s Lin Yuxin and Go.
Kanaya fired an equally spectacular 65 on Sunday for the title, starting the day with four birdies on the first six holes. After a rain delay that lasted just over an hour, he went on another run, carding birdies on Nos. 14 -16, and that all but sealed the deal. A three-putt bogey on the par-3 17th proved to be nothing more than a hiccup, and when he made his par on 18, he was on his way to Augusta.
Though Kanaya was within easy striking distance at the start of the final round of the 2018 Asia-Pacific Amateur, which was celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, it looked like it might be another year for the Chinese, who finished first through third in last year’s tournament at the Royal Wellington Golf Club in New Zealand. Defending champion Lin stood atop the leader board in Singapore after 54 holes at 10-under par after a sizzling 62, and two shots back of him were his compatriots, Cheng and Zheng Kai Bai, a junior at the University of Central Florida who was making his first appearance in this tournament. And one behind them was Beijing native and one-time University of Florida standout Andy Zhang.
But none of those four golfers were able to break par on Sunday. And as they fell back, Kamaya made his climb, followed closely by Nakajima and Thomas.
As for the rest of the top 10, it was a diverse and very talented group that included golfers from seven different lands, starting with fourth-place finisher Go, who graduated from Seton Hall University in New Jersey with a degree in finance and accounting earlier this year and is now beginning a career as a tour professional. Next came K.K. Limbhasut of Thailand in fifth, while Jin held sole possession of sixth and Ervin Chang of Malaysia seventh. Sadom Kaewkanjana of Thailand, who arrived at this island nation No. 10 on the World Amateur Golf Ranking, ended up eighth, with Lin and Bai of China tying for ninth with Gregory Foo of Singapore and Won-Jun Lee of Korea.
All told, 120 players from 39 of the countries and territories that make up the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation played in this year’s championship. Sixty-four of those contestants made the cut, which came at 6-over par.