The leading women amateur golfers from Australia and New Zealand are targeting a win at the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship when play begins at the Waterside course at Siam Country Club in Thailand from tomorrow.
Hot on the heels of the men’s edition, won by Australia’s Harrison Crowe, the premier women’s amateur championship will feature 86 of the region’s finest golfers from 21 countries, with the first three editions being won by players from Thailand (Atthaya Thitikul, 2018, above) and Japan (Yuka Yasuda, 2019 and Mizuki Hashimoto, 2021).
In 2022, Australia will field a strong squad of six players, all ranked inside the top 152 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR). It will be spearheaded by Kirsten Rudgeley, the 2021 English Women’s Amateur champion, who at 34 in the WAGR is the top-ranked Aussie.
It will also feature Kelsey Bennett, who finished joint runner-up in the WAAP when it was played in Abu Dhabi last year. Justice Bosio, who reached the quarter-finals of the 73rd US Girls’ Junior Championship in Kentucky this year, Maddison Hinson-Tolchard, Caitlin Peirce and Sarah Hammett.
The New Zealand team also comprises six players, with world No.72 Fiona Xu, who matched Bosio’s quarter-final effort at the US Girls’ Junior Championship, as their leading star. Others in the team are Vivian Lu, Eunseo Choi, Tara Raj, Darae Chung and Sumin Kang.
Bennett’s tie for second in Abu Dhabi is the best result by an Australian in the championship that is organised by the R&A and the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation and was first held in 2018. For New Zealand, Wenyung Keh’s play-off loss to Atthaya Thitikul in the inaugural championship in Singapore in 2018 remains the nation’s best finish.
The field in Thailand is stacked with stars, including Saki Baba, Japan’s world No.4 and the reigning US Amateur champion. World No.11 Jiyoo Lim of the Republic of Korea and local star Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, who wants to go one better than her second-place finish in Abu Dhabi last year, will be strong contenders as well.
There is a lot to play for at the WAAP, with the winner at Siam Country Club earning the opportunity to compete in two Major championships in 2023: the AIG Women’s Open and the Amundi Evian Championship. They will also be invited to the Augusta National Women’s Amateur and the Hana Financial Group Championship.
The 21-year-old Rudgeley, who became the first Australian to make the cut at the ANWA earlier this year and play the final round at Augusta National Golf Club where she finished tied for eighth, will be making her debut in the WAAP. The West Australian has also already had a taste of Major championship golf, earning a place in the 2021 AIG Women’s Open at Carnoustie through Final Qualifying.
Rudgeley, whose last win was in the third week of January at the Avondale Amateur, is eager to get back in the winners’ circle and knows it would be a great week to do that in Thailand.
“I have heard so many good things about the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship and how the girls have enjoyed their previous experiences,” Rudgeley said. “I am excited to finally become a part of it this year.
“I know what is on offer to the WAAP champion. It was incredible to play and be in the mix at the ANWA this year and playing at the AIG Women’s Open last year was just a whole other level. Having had a taste of Major-championship golf, I know that is where I want to be. Winning WAAP would be a huge boost to getting back there.”
Bennett had a chance to make a birdie on the closing par-5 18th hole at Abu Dhabi Golf Club on the Sunday to force a playoff in the third WAAP Championship, but the lively 22-year-old from New South Wales won hearts as she smiled her way through the disappointment.
“I played really well last year,” Bennett said. “Even though I didn’t quite get a win across the line. I can’t complain, it was an awesome experience. All year I’ve been thinking about the WAAP and getting a second crack at it. I’m excited to be back this year and hopefully I can go one better.”
The 17-year-old Xu became the third New Zealander to win the Australian Amateur crown, following in the footsteps of her idol, Lydia Ko, who achieved the feat in 2012. That gives the soft-spoken Xu bragging rights to be called the best women’s amateur golfer Down Under. She is also the defending New Zealand Amateur champion.
“I have had some great success in the past year, but the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship will be another step up for me,” Xu said. “There are some remarkable players in the Asian countries and the competition will be intense. So many factors are involved in winning a tournament, but I am sure I won’t be short on confidence and belief when I tee up in Thailand.”
The WAAP has been developed by the R&A and the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation to inspire future generations of women golfers and provides the champion with an unparalleled launchpad early in their career through exemptions into multiple women’s Major championships and other elite amateur championships.