SHANGHAI, CHINA | Milestones are moments for measuring successes and failures. So as the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship celebrates its 10th anniversary this week, it seems a good time to assess how it has fared since the tournament was first played, at the Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, China, in the fall of 2009.
It also makes sense to use this occasion to assess how a competitive cousin of that event, the Latin America Amateur Championship, has done. After all, its fifth anniversary is coming up in January. And the two tournaments not only share founding fathers, in the Masters Tournament and the R&A, but also the mission of furthering the development of the game in their respective regions, in part through the creation of golf heroes whose triumphs will compel future generations to take up the sport themselves.
One way to calculate how the events are doing in those regards is by analyzing the performance of AAC and LAAC alumni who are now making their livings as tour professionals. And by that gauge, the competitions are doing very well indeed.
Four past AAC contestants – Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, C.T. Pan of Taiwan, Cameron Smith of Australia and Si Woo Kim of Korea – have won on the PGA Tour, and Matsuyama, Pan and Smith all qualified to be part of the International Presidents Cup team at Royal Melbourne in December. Meanwhile, two past competitors in the LAAC, which was contested for the first time in January 2015, have won on the PGA Tour in the past two weeks – Chile’s Joaquin Niemann captured A Military Tribute at The Greenbrier and Colombia’s Sebastian Munoz took the Sanderson Farms Championship in Jackson, Miss.
Matsuyama led the way with back-to-back triumphs in the AAC in 2010 and 2011. A shy college student when he took the first of those two titles, he went on to be low amateur in his first Masters, in 2011. Since turning pro in 2013, Matsuyama has won five times on the PGA Tour, the most notable of those being a victory in the 2014 Memorial Tournament, which is hosted, of course, by Jack Nicklaus. In addition, Matsuyama bagged a pair of World Golf Championship titles, in 2016 and 2017, and has triumphed eight times on his home country’s professional golf circuit. He also won Tiger Woods’ Hero World Challenge in 2016.
Kim, who competed in his lone AAC in 2011, has prevailed twice on the PGA Tour, most notably at the 2017 Players Championship. Pan played in three AACs and is probably best remembered for finishing second and just a shot back of Chinese sensation Guan Tianlang in 2012. The former University of Washington standout won his first PGA Tour title, the RBC Heritage at Harbour Town, last April.
Not surprisingly given the increasing strength of the golfers emerging in the Asia-Pacific region, several AAC alums have captured titles on circuits other than the PGA Tour.
Then, there is the Aussie Smith, who paired with Swede Jonas Blixt to win the PGA Tour’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans in 2018 and captured back-to-back Australian PGA Championships in 2017 and ’18. He also finished T5 in the 2018 Masters.
Not surprisingly given the increasing strength of the golfers emerging in the Asia-Pacific region, several AAC alums have captured titles on circuits other than the PGA Tour. Like New Zealand’s Ryan Fox, who last February won the ISPS Handa World Super 6 Perth, a tournament co-sanctioned by the European Tour and PGA Tour of Australasia, and Zecheng “Marty” Dou of China, who has triumphed twice on what was then the Web.com Tour and four times on the PGA Tour China. Another Kiwi, Ben Campbell, took his home country’s PGA Championship in 2018.
Those are pretty strong results from participants in an event that is about to be played for only the 11th time. And it speaks to how the AAC has been able to highlight the best golfers in the region and give them a very visible platform on which to perform – and to inspire youngsters in those parts of the world.
Those players competing in the LAAC, which also counts the USGA as one of its founding partners, are also distinguishing themselves. And that is only after being around half as long.
The first to truly break out was Niemann, who won the LAAC on his fourth try in 2018 and proceeded to play his way onto the PGA Tour after competing in that year’s Masters as an amateur. The South American was only 19 when procured his tour card after a mere eight tournaments, and just 20 when he prevailed at The Greenbrier. Based on how easily he seems to have adapted to life – and play – on the PGA Tour, it is reasonable to expect that triumph will be the first of many.
As for the 26-year-old Munoz, who competed in the inaugural LAAC in 2015 and played college golf at the University of North Texas, he demonstrated at the Sanderson Farms tournament that there are other golfers from Latin America who can win on the PGA Tour.
The two tournaments have come a long way in a very short period of time. Happy anniversary to them both.
C.T. Pan is one of four Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship winners to go on to capture a PGA Tour event. Photo: Kevin C. Cox, Getty Images
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