With the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship heading to Royal Melbourne this month, there’s a lot to like about the Australian contingent.

Jeffrey Guan

Chipping lessons with Cameron Smith in his Florida front yard and practice-round walks at major championships with Adam Scott are just some of the experiences Jeffrey Guan is adding to the memory bank as he nears the business end of his amateur career. Now, there’s one more thing the 19-year-old rising star wants to add to his resume: an Asia-Pacific Amateur title.

Sydneysider Guan, one of Australian golf’s most exciting prospects, will lead the Australian contingent at Royal Melbourne. Frankly, he’ll be among the overall favourites in a field that will draw star amateurs from across Australasia for the 14th annual Asia Pacific Amateur from October 26-29. The event run jointly by Augusta National and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews will offer the winner an invitation to the 2024 Masters and the 152nd Open Championship at Royal Troon, while the runner(s)-up will gain a place in Final Qualifying for The Open.

Guan has won some huge titles in his career, winning the 2022 Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, just six months after one of his idols, Smith, won the PGA Tour’s Players Championship at the same course. He’s been on Junior Presidents Cup teams, won an Adam Scott Foundation event in California, contended in men’s professional tournaments in Australia and played deep into stages of prestigious US amateur events. But he dreams of winning an Asia-Pacific Amateur in front of family and friends at one of the world’s best courses, Royal Melbourne.

“It’s such a well-run event. I played in it when Harrison Crowe won in Thailand [in 2022], so I’m really excited,” Guan told Australian Golf Digest. “All the Melbourne Sandbelt courses are so fun. It’s just a different style of golf where you have to think your way around, land your approaches short of some greens and play away from some flags. It’s really neat this year for the Aussies to have a chance at winning a title in front of a home crowd with people from Augusta and the R&A watching. You don’t get that every day.

“I’m not really letting myself think too much about the Masters and Open invitations, because whatever comes at the end, it’s just a bonus. But if I were to win, it would honestly mean the world to me. I’ve grown up loving watching the Masters on TV early in the mornings in Australia; it’s probably my favourite major. It would be surreal if I had the opportunity to play the Masters and The Open.”

Another moment you don’t get every day is one-on-one lessons with a golfer who won an Open Championship at St Andrews, in Queensland star Smith. Guan was one of the recipients, along with Joseph Buttress, of the Cameron Smith Scholarship in 2023. He travelled from Australia to Smith’s US home and spent a week with the six-time PGA Tour champion and three-time LIV Golf winner. Smith helped Guan with his chipping and pitching specifically, and then invited him on a private plane from Florida to Los Angeles for the 2023 US Open at LA Country Club, where Smith finished fourth. It was at LACC that Guan walked inside the ropes with Smith and fellow major winner Scott during a practice round.

“Cam helped me a lot with my short game, and now that has improved drastically over the course of four or five weeks that I’ve spent playing in the UK and the US over the summer here,” he said. “He took me through so many aspects of the setup, and the way I need to strike the ball with pitch shots when I’m faced with certain lies. Overall, the experiences I’ve had overseas have helped develop my control, course management and when I should attack certain holes.”

Guan is ranked 53rd on the World Amateur Golf Rankings. No.16 Yuti Sugiura (Japan) will headline the field, while No.22 Wenyi Ding (China), No.28 Ratchanon Chantananuwat (Thailand), No.30 Kazuma Kobori (New Zealand), No.47 Masayuki Yamashita (Japan) and No.49 Sampson-Yunhe Zheng (China) will also vie for glory at Royal Melbourne.

Lukas Michel  

Perhaps the most interesting amateur in golf, when Lukas Michel is not practising and playing, he can be found operating bulldozers on golf courses being designed or renovated by the firm he works for, Clayton DeVries Pont (run by Mike Clayton, Mike DeVries and Frank Pont). The self-confessed architecture buff consults with the firm while he decides what direction to take his career. Does he turn pro? He could, having enough talent to win the US Mid-Amateur in 2019, earning a start in the 2020 Masters and US Open. It’s unclear if Michel has made up his mind, but it seems design is currently leading the internal debate. After all, he has an engineering degree from the University of Melbourne and has been working on the glorious looking Seven Mile Beach, a golf course being built along the water in Hobart by former PGA Tour pro Mat Goggin. Perhaps no contestant in the Asia-Pacific Amateur field knows Royal Melbourne better than Michel, who’s from south-east Melbourne. Should he go on to win, a return to the Masters at Augusta beckons.

Jack Buchanan 

Buchanan looks like he should be kicking a footy around with the Adelaide Crows, with a tall, wiry physique and distinctive mullet. But Buchanan is a talented amateur golfer who was born in Scotland. Last year, Buchanan tied for 25th at the St Andrews Links Trophy at the Home of Golf, as well as notching a 13th place at the Scottish Men’s Open with professionals in the field. “I was born in Scotland, so I had all my family at St Andrews and standing on the first tee during that event. It was something you dream about as a kid,” he said. Buchanan also picked up a point on the final day to help the Asia-Pacific team to victory over Europe in the Bonallack Trophy at La Manga Club in Spain. Buchanan’s international experience will bode well at Royal Melbourne.

Connor Fewkes 

Fewkes calls the red dirt of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, 600 kilometres east of Perth, home. A member of Goldfields Golf Club, he won its premier event – the annual McDonald’s Goldfields Classic – four times in five years from 2017 to 2021. His 2021 victory came on the heels of his triumph at Royal Fremantle Golf Club’s Amateur Open. Fewkes is no stranger to hard work; only five years ago he was playing off a plus-3 handicap and won the Australian Boys’ Amateur Championship all the while working as a labourer and apprentice greenkeeper at Goldfields.

Quinnton Croker 

Croker knows a thing or two about the competition in amateur golf in Asia. He won the inaugural LLD International Amateur Championship in Singapore in 2022 in a dominant, wire-to-wire fashion. The 19-year-old torched Laguna National Golf & Country Club with scores of 67, 66 and 74 to finish nine-under par. Croker won by 12 shots. “This is my first time being out of Australia playing an event, it’s pretty good to come away with a win. I’ve won a couple of events in Australia, but this is definitely one of the biggest ones I’ve won,” Croker said at the time. He’s also represented Australia at the Nomura Cup and finished T-15 at the 2022 Gippsland Super 6s, a professional event on the PGA Tour of Australasia.

Max Charles 

Charles will have the comfort of being a native of Melbourne but knowing his game is good enough for the American college system. He played college golf at Boise State University in Idaho, where his long list of accolades included: UCSB Collegiate Medallist (2021); Redhawk Invitational Medallist (2022); Ping Cougar Classic Medallist (2023); and Boise State school record 54-hole score and 36-hole score. Last college season (2022-2023), he appeared in all 11 events, averaged 72.03 across 29 rounds with one medallist honour, had two top-10 finishes and seven top-25s. It’s safe to say he comes to the 2023 Asia-Pacific Amateur in fine form.

Harry Bolton  

Bolton is strong by name and strong by nature. The Royal Canberra member used to play college golf at Newberry College in South Carolina. This year, Bolton won the Tura Beach Country Club Amateur Championship Open in extremely windy conditions and has also won the NSW Country Championships in Forbes.

Jye Pickin  

Pickin seems to be drawn to places named Charlestown. Well, kind of. He was born and raised in Charlestown, suburb of Newcastle near Lake Macquarie, and his talent on the course saw him play his way to the US for the College of Charleston (minus the ‘w’) in South Carolina. There, he graduated with a 3.5 grade-point average and represented Australia at the 2016 Asia-Pacific Junior Championship. Pickin knows how to win, with his trophy cabinet including the 2015 International Children’s Games for Golf and the 2018 NSW State Junior Championship.

Jasper Stubbs 

Stubbs has tasted success in Australasia and wants more, having won the New Zealand Amateur Championship at Otago Golf Club. Ranked the world No.483 amateur at the time, he beat two-time finalist Mitchell Kale in the final 6&5 to win his first national amateur title.

Harry Takis 

Takis is a talented member of Virginia Golf Club who first discovered golf as a child, when his dad would take him to the range for fun. Now, it’s his life. When Takis was 10, he started learning from world-renowned coach, Brisbane’s Ian Triggs, who has worked with golfers like Peter Senior and John Senden, as well as women’s world No.1s Karrie Webb and So Yeon Ryu. Inspired by the expertise of Triggs, Takis and his family even moved house to live on the golf course and work daily on his game. 

The Asia-Pacific Amateur’s class of 2014: Curtis Luck, Ryan Ruffels, Todd Sinnott, Antonio Murdaca, Lucas Herbert, Ben Eccles, Cory Crawford, Geoff Drakeford, Taylor Macdonald and Jarryd Felton.

The difficulty of building a successful pro career

How 10 Australians have fared in the nine years since the first Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship contested Down Under.

By Rohan Clarke

Forging a career in professional golf is a tough row to hoe. That much became apparent while reflecting upon the result of the 2014 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which was staged in Australia for the first time at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

Ten Australians competed in that sixth edition of the tournament created by Augusta National Golf Club and the R&A to grow the game in the Asia-Pacific region [see photo]. Adelaide’s Antonio Murdaca cruised to a seven-stroke victory, acquiring an invitation to play in the next year’s Masters Tournament.

A gala function held that week at the Melbourne Cricket Ground posed a question as to which competitor would carve out the most distinguished professional career. The Asia-Pacific Amateur has been a terrific launching pad for the careers of several golfers, most notably two-time champion Hideki Matsuyama, the 2021 Masters winner.

However, in a sign of just how difficult it is to build a successful pro career, just seven competitors from that 2014 Asia-Pacific Amateur have entered the top 400 on the Official World Golf Ranking [see table on page 122 with names in bold]. Just one competitor from that 2014 field is currently ranked inside the world’s top 100 – Victoria’s Lucas Herbert (59th).

Bendigo-raised Herbert has captured three DP World Tour titles (Dubai Desert Classic, Irish Open, ISPS Handa Championship in Japan) and a PGA Tour victory (Bermuda Championship) while rising to world No.40. Statistically, he was the leading putter on the PGA Tour last year.

Three Asians who finished in the top 10 at Royal Melbourne have enjoyed successful pro careers. Runner-up Mikumu Horikawa has become a constant threat on the Japan Golf Tour where he has won four times and reached 131st on the OWGR. C.T. Pan became the second Taiwanese golfer to win on the PGA Tour (2019 RBC Heritage), represented the Internationals at the 2019 Presidents Cup and climbed to world No.47. Zecheng ‘Marty’ Dou is a three-time winner on the Web.com Tour (now Korn Ferry Tour) and finished 123rd on the PGA Tour’s 2023 FedEx Cup standings.

Unfortunately, Antonio Murdaca’s Asia-Pacific Amateur triumph didn’t translate into longevity in professional golf. After an exceptional junior/amateur career, his best performance as a pro was third at the 2016 WA Open. Murdaca is no longer ranked on the OWGR and is believed to have little to do with the game anymore.

Of the other Australians, Perth’s Curtis Luck enjoyed a phenomenal year in 2016 when he won the WA Open, US Amateur and Asia-Pacific Amateur titles. He struggled initially as a pro but has since become a Korn Ferry Tour winner in 2020. The best may be yet to come for the 27-year-old who has a career-high world ranking of 276.

So, too, long-hitting Victorian Todd Sinnott, who finished third in 2014 at Royal Melbourne. Sinnott (currently 584th) plies his trade in the Asia-Pacific, winning the 2017 Myanmar Open and 2022 TPS Victoria.

Jarryd Felton has established himself as the consummate professional and is a four-time winner on the PGA Tour of Australasia (2015 NSW PGA, 2017 NZ PGA, 2020 WA PGA, 2022 TPS Sydney). Felton’s achievements highlight the bias against Australian tournaments in the OWGR system where he is currently ranked 814th.

Ben Eccles won the 2015 NSW Open among 11 top-10 results on the PGA Tour of Australasia where he continues to pursue his professional dream. Likewise, Cory Crawford who plays the PGA Tour of Australasia and Canadian Tour, fuelled by his win at the 2017 PNG Golf Open.

The highly acclaimed Ryan Ruffels, a former Junior World champion (2014) and Australian Boys’ winner (2015), is yet to deliver on his potential as a teenager. Since turning pro at 17, he was gifted sponsor invites onto the PGA Tour but has languished on PGA Tour Latinoamerica and Europe’s Challenge Tour. Ruffels is still just 25 years of age.

Including Murdaca, three of the 10-strong Australian contingent effectively retired within five years of turning pro. Geoff Drakeford had some tour success, registering three runner-up finishes in 2015 (NSW PGA, NZ PGA and on the European Challenge Tour) to reach world No.473. Taylor Macdonald finished runner-up at the NT PGA in 2019, which was his last full season on tour.

Reflecting upon those 10 Australian competitors, Golf Australia’s high-performance director Brad James says the transition from amateur golf to professional golf is demanding physically, mentally and financially.

“Those first five years of an athlete’s professional career can be the most challenging, the most lonely and the most expensive part of the journey,” James says. “That’s why when you look back and only one of those 10 have made it [Lucas Herbert], which is 10 percent. That’s the reality of it. The definition of ‘making it’ for us is top 100 – where at that point you’re financially independent and you can actually have somewhat of a normal lifestyle.”

Great careers can take time to evolve. It’s worth noting England’s Justin Rose finished fourth in the 1998 Open Championship at age 17. Rose turned pro the next day and missed his first 21 cuts as a professional before establishing himself on tour and eventually winning the 2013 US Open at age 32.