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The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship hasn’t been played since 2019 thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. When it returns this week, it should resonate a little louder with players than it did in its first 11 iterations.
The goal of the championship, co-sanctioned by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament and the R&A, was always to open a pipeline from countries in the Asia-Pacific region of the world to the highest echelon of golf, namely the PGA Tour. The AAC, which awards a Masters invitation to its winner, was supposed to identify up-and-coming talent from the region and with two-time champion Hideki Matsuyama, at least, it did that. In April, Matsuyama became the first player to convert an AAC title into a Green Jacket. He also became the first player from Japan to win the Masters.
“It’s thrilling to think that there are a lot of youngsters in Japan watching today,” Matsuyama told media after winning the 2021 Masters. “Hopefully in five, ten years, when they get a little older, hopefully some of them will be competing on the world stage.”
Some might even be in this year’s AAC field. In preparation for this week’s tournament, to be played Nov. 3-6 at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club in Dubai, here are some noteworthy storylines to watch.
1. Can Yuxin Lin do something Hideki never did?
Only two players in the tournament’s history have won multiple AAC titles: Matsuyama in 2010 and 2011 and Yuxin Lin, a junior at the University of Florida, in 2017 and 2019. Now, the 21-year-old from Beijing has an opportunity to win a third.
This week marks Lin’s fifth time teeing it up at the AAC, but he said early week he had no expectations for himself.
“This week has always been a special week for me,” he said. “Playing the Masters and The Open twice really made an influence on my amateur career and I really appreciate the opportunity. I’m just really excited to come back and I’ve just got to play my best and see what happens, really.”
Lin, ranked No. 23 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, arrived in Dubai after a busy fall college season with the Gators. In three starts, he hasn’t finished outside the top 20 and ended his season with a top-10 finish at the Isleworth Collegiate.
2. Watch the sweet swing of a World No. 1 amateur…and introducing world No. 158
Keita Nakajima’s game will be on display in Dubai this week, and as the top-ranked amateur in the world – and the recent winner of the Mark H. McCormack Medal – he’s one worth keeping an eye on.
Nakajima has been at the top of the WAGR for the past 28 weeks. He won the Japan Amateur and the Panasonic Open, a pro event, already in 2021 and most recently was 28th at the Zozo Championship, a PGA Tour event in Tokyo.
If you’re ever going to copy a golf swing, I suggest this one! #1 amateur in the world Keita Nakajima! pic.twitter.com/q6rIcZx7J5
— Colt Knost (@ColtKnost) November 2, 2021
His eyes are firmly cast on Matsuyama’s example, but for this week, concentration will be key. Nakajima already noted several difficult aspects of Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club.
“First thing is I enjoy the great views on the course, and I felt there were a lot of red penalty areas and you can encounter some tough winds,” he said. “It’s a tough course.”
Unsurprisingly, Nakajima and Lin are grouped together for the first round. They’ll start at 9:05 a.m. local time off No. 1. As for the third player in that group? Meet India’s Rohan Dholepatil. At No. 158 in the WAGR, Dholepatil is India’s second-highest ranked player, and enters the AAC off victories at the Northern India Amateur and Southern India Amateur.
3. A USGA champion among them
Lukas Michel holes up the trophy after winning the 2019 U.S. Mid-Amateur at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colorado. (Photo: USGA/Chris Keane)
Fans may recognize Lukas Michel as the 2019 winner of the U.S. Mid-Amateur, a victory that earned him a spot in the 2020 Masters Tournament. Shortly after playing that event, Michel, 27, won the Australian Master of the Amateurs and played largely in his native Australia in 2021 until returning stateside for the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur. He could play his way back into the Masters this week with an AAC victory.
Having played Augusta National, Michel is no longer in the dark about what’s at stake this week despite this being his first time teeing it up at the AAC.
“I was a bit naïve about everything that came with it,” he said of his Mid-Amateur victory. “It really is life-changing. There might be more pressure knowing that it’s such a big deal and being able to get that opportunity again is really special.”
Interestingly, in addition to traveling extensively to play elite amateur golf, Michel has an eye for architecture. He works with course designer Mike Clayton, which gives him perhaps a different perspective on some of the venues he sees for amateur events.
“I think sometimes you have to turn the blinkers on and just enjoy the competitive element of playing a golf tournament,” he said of striking a balance between competing and eyeing course design. “So certainly when I’m playing, I try to think less about the architecture and more just about just shooting the best score. But for me, I find my interest in architecture just makes me enjoy golf more, more than most people.
“Some people treat golf like a job. Whereas for me, I’m not just looking at trying to shoot a low score I’m also enjoying the environment and looking at how certain things are shaped and how the bunkers look, and I’m interested in learning as much as I can while I’m at a place, as well. It’s a good distraction sometimes.”
4. From dorm rooms to Dubai
Among the 93 players in the AAC field, more than a third have ties to a U.S. college golf team. Some of the most notable?
Lachlan Barker (Australia), Duke
Yuxin Lin (China), Florida
Alexander Yang (Hong Kong), Stanford
Puwit Anupansuebsai (Thailand), San Diego State
Bo Jin (China), Oklahoma State
Leo Oyo (Japan), Oklahoma State
Sam Choi (Korea), New Mexico
Taichi Kho (Hong Kong), Notre Dame
Yuki Moriyama (Japan), Oregon
Leon Philip D’Souza (Hong Kong), USC
5. How to watch
The AAC will be broadcast around the world, but viewers in the U.S. can catch it through ESPN (though be prepared to burn the midnight oil).
Wednesday, Nov, 3
ESPN2, ESPN App
Thursday, Nov. 4
ESPN2, ESPN App
Friday, Nov. 5
ESPN2, ESPN App
Saturday, Nov. 6
ESPN2, ESPN App
Sunday, Nov. 7
Final Round Highlights
ESPN, ESPN App