M’sians brace for windy week at Royal Melbourne

MELBOURNE: The Malaysian players competing in this week’s 14th Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship are bracing themselves for challenging conditions with strong winds expected at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

The colours of the Jalur Gemilang will be flown by Marcus Lim, Anson Yeo, Nateeshvar Ganesh, Zubair Firdaus, and debutantes Andrew Yap and Zia Iqmal Abdul Rashid. The seventh member of the Malaysian contingent, Malcolm Ting, had to withdraw following an unfortunate fall yesterday in his hotel bathroom which resulted in a lower back injury.

The prestigious tournament tees off today at Royal Melbourne’s Composite Course, which comprises 12 holes from the West Course and six holes from the East Course. The champion will receive an invitation to the 2024 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club and exemptions into The 152nd Open at Royal Troon and the 129th Amateur Championship, provided he retains his amateur status.

Lim, who plays on the collegiate golf circuit in the United States, is hoping for a good showing in his third successive Asia-Pacific Amateur campaign having missed the cut in his previous appearances.

“The swing feels great and my game is in good shape. I played well in the summer and have been having a pretty good fall. Just trying to recover from the long flight here as I only arrived on Monday, fighting jet lag and getting my body ready for the tournament,” said Lim, who is in his senior year at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut.

“Royal Melbourne is a links-style course and is very different from the courses we usually play on. It’s not long but the layout is firm and tricky, so placing the ball in the right spots is definitely important. You can’t swing out of your shoes, especially on the drives and long iron shots,” added the 21-year-old.

Like Lim, Nateeshvar will be making his third Asia-Pacific Amateur appearance in a row and has yet to make the cut.

“I’ve been playing well recently and will just go for it this week. The golf course is pure, the greens are firm and fast, and the conditions are making it even tougher. The weather is cold and windy, so just trying to get used to it and adapt,” noted the 18-year-old from Malacca.

Having earned bragging rights as best Malaysian in tied 29th place on his Asia-Pacific Amateur debut at Amata Spring Country Club in Thailand last year, 17-year-old Yeo is confident of another good outing at Royal Melbourne.

“The course is not very long but the wind and firm conditions make it tough. I’m quite confident this week and will focus on hitting fairways and greens. For me, the key here is driving and putting. The greens are not easy as they are running around 12,” said the teenager from Kuching, Sarawak.

Zubair, who finished tied 32nd in his maiden Asia-Pacific Amateur appearance in Thailand last year, is looking forward to a different type of challenge at Royal Melbourne.

“It’s certainly much colder here than in Thailand! The greens are very firm and fast, so you have to be cautious on your approach shots and when putting. I grew up in Queensland and I’m used to Australian golf, so I’m really excited for this week and will try to shoot as low as I can,” said the 21-year-old, who is in his junior year at San Jose State University in the United States.

For the 24-year-old Zia, just being at Royal Melbourne this week has already been an unforgettable experience.

“I’m very excited about my first Asia-Pacific Amateur here at Royal Melbourne! From the moment we arrived, it’s been an amazing experience from A to Z. The golf course is fantastic and very challenging, especially the wind which keeps changing. I just hope to make the cut this week and enjoy the tournament,” said Zia, who is in the third year of a golf management degree at Universiti Utara Malaysia.

The “baby” in the Malaysian team at age 14, Yap has set a target of shooting under-par each day. “It’s super windy out there! The golf course is absolutely fantastic and you really need good course management. The greens are firm and it can be hard to get spin on the approach shots, so you have to play short and let the ball roll to the pin. My game is in good shape and my target is to shoot under-par each round,” said Yap, who is the third best Malaysian on the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) in 277th spot behind Lim (211) and Ting (225).

Ting was understandably deflated at having to pull out of the championship, as this would have been his last amateur outing before turning professional.

“I’m really disappointed that I have to withdraw from this prestigious event. I have lower back pain and I have to make sure it heals,” said the 21-year-old, who played in the 2019 Asia-Pacific Amateur at Sheshan International Golf Club in China where he finished joint 52nd.

Malaysia’s best finish in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is seventh, achieved by Ervin Chang in 2018 at Sentosa Golf Club in Singapore and by Mohd Iszaimi Ismail in the inaugural 2009 championship at Mission Hills Golf Club in China.

Leading this year’s field is Japan’s Yuta Sugiura, who is 15th in the WAGR. Other top-ranked competitors include No. 17 Wenyi Ding of China, No. 30 Kazuma Kobori of New Zealand and No. 51 Yunhe “Sampson” Zheng of China.

The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship was created in February 2009 as a joint initiative to grow the game by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, The Masters Tournament and The R&A. Notable past competitors include 2021 Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, a two-time winner of the championship, and 2022 Open champion Cameron Smith of Australia.