Murdaca, Ruffels to lead charge in Hong Kong

Hong Kong will play host to the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) for the very first time next week as the best amateur golfers from around the region gather at The Clearwater Bay Golf & Country Club to compete for this prestigious title and a coveted invitation to the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club.

The AAC, taking place from 1 to 4 October, is played annually at a different venue throughout Asia-Pacific. Organised by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation, Masters Tournament and The R&A, the champion receives an invitation to the Masters and, along with the runner-up, gains entry to The Open Qualifying Series for The Open at Royal Troon.

Antonio Murdaca is the defending champion and one of two former winners in the field in Hong Kong. The Adelaide native won by an impressive seven strokes a year ago in front of his home crowd at The Royal Melbourne Golf Club to become the first AAC Champion from Australia. His form has been solid this season, recording a win at the South Australia Amateur Classic and an 11th place finish at the St Andrews Links Trophy.

Ryan Ruffels
Ryan Ruffels

A strong challenge will come from fellow countryman Ryan Ruffels, the region’s No.1 ranked player. He is the only golfer from Asia-Pacific to occupy a top-10 spot in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. Ruffels, just 17 years old, finished three places behind Murdaca at the AAC last year. He made headlines in 2013 when he became one of the youngest players in Australian Open history to make The Open cut, and subsequently finished in an impressive 24th place.

The 2012 AAC Champion, teenage sensation Guan Tianlang from China, will look to leverage his experience at the event to mount a serious challenge to win a second title. The teenage schoolboy took full advantage of his invitation to the 2013 Masters Tournament. He first made headlines by becoming the youngest golfer ever to compete at Augusta National, then subsequently became the youngest ever player to make the cut at a major.

Guan Tianlang
Guan Tianlang

Jin Cheng is currently the No. 1 amateur golfer in China. He was in contention last year in Melbourne but stumbled on the final day to see his challenge fade. With a win on the PGA Tour China in 2014 and a number of solid performances recently, the 17-year-old will have all the confidence he needs heading into this championship.

Viraj Madappa represents India’s best chance at the AAC this year. The 17-year-old has shown good form of late, recording a notable win at the Taiwan Amateur Golf Championship and becoming the first amateur from his country to play at the Porter Cup in the United States.

Local hope rests on Leon Philip D’Souza and Michael Regan Wong, the current standouts on the Hong Kong junior circuit and Nos. 1 and 2 on the Hong Kong Golf Association’s 2015 Junior Order of Merit, respectively.

D’Souza has impressed this season with victories at the Mercedes-Benz Junior Golf Championship Asian Masters Final, Hong Kong Junior Close Championship and the KSC Junior Open Championship, while 18-year-old Wong is the defending champion of the Hong Kong Open Amateur Championship and runner-up (to D’Souza) at the Hong Kong Junior Close Championship this year. Both will be making their debut at the AAC.

Since its inauguration in 2009, the AAC has produced an impressive list of winners, including two-time champion Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who has recorded top-20 finishes across all four majors since turning professional in 2013.

Continuing under its banner of ‘Creating Future Heroes’, the AAC will feature 120 players from the APGC’s member associations and will be played over 72-holes of stroke play, with a cut for the leading 60 players plus ties after 36 holes.