Ting-Hsuan Huang bounced back from a slow start to win the 2022 Women’s Amateur Asia Pacific (WAAP) championship and claim the first title for Chinese Taipei at Siam Country Club in Thailand.
Facing up to the challenge of the home favourite Natthakritta Vongtaveelap, 17-year-old Huang made six birdies in the last 11 holes to post a three-under par 69 for a winning total of 11-under par 277. That was two shots better than the Thai star, who closed with a one-under par 71, which included bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes.
Korea’s Hyosong Lee matched the best round of the day, a six-under par 66, to climb up to equal third place at seven-under par with Japan’s Yuna Araki (69) and Philippine’s Rianne Mikhaela Malixi (72). Queenslander Justice Bosio was the leading Australian, finishing in a tie for 19th.
Huang, who has notched up nine wins and 23 top ten finishes in the past two years, is committed to UCLA next year and has secured places in two Major championships – the AIG Women’s Open and the Amundi Evian Championship – as well as the Hana Financial Group Championship and an invitation to play in the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
“To be able to play in Majors is really a dream come true for me. I’d like to thank the R&A and the APGC for giving us this opportunity,” Huang said.
“I did not have any expectations coming into this week. I just wanted to play good golf and enjoy myself on the golf course. To be able to do this is amazing.”
Huang, who is 83rd in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), started the day tied for the lead at eight-under par but slipped way behind with bogeys on the first and fourth holes. Vongtaveelap, on the other hand, made a birdie on the second hole and then sensationally holed her second shot from 103 metres on the par-4 third hole to open a four-shot lead.
Despite birdies on the eighth and ninth holes, Huang still trailed her Thai playing partners (Suvichaya Vinijchaitham being the third player in the lead group) when the group reached the par-3 12th hole. On the toughest hole on the course, playing 0.34 shots above par, Huang played the critical shot of the championship when she birdied from the bunker. Vongtaveelap made a bogey and Vinijchaitham slipped up with a double-bogey.
Vongtaveelap’s biggest strength – her ability to hit the ball long – became the chink in her armour. She started the day playing conservatively on the par-5 holes, and then when she tried to go for the green on the par-4 15th hole, where the tee was brought forward to 256 metres, she sprayed her tee shot right and could manage only par. On the par-5 18th, trying to go for a big tee shot, she lost her balance slightly and ballooned the ball, leaving her to have to be content with a closing par.
The Thai world No.38 had a golden chance to tie the lead going to the final, par-5 hole, but she pushed her four-foot par putt. Huang could only make a bogey after her tee shot left her in an awkward position in a fairway bunker, from where she had to lay up.
Huang, who grew up idolising Chinese Taipei legend and five-time Major champion Yani Tseng, then hit a brilliant third shot in pouring rain to set up a final birdie from less than three feet. Vongtaveelap once again missed a birdie putt from four feet and failed to put pressure on the champion.
“I felt very nervous because Sim put some pressure on me over the closing holes. I didn’t do very well on the front nine, but I was thinking very positively on the back nine,” Huang said.
“The shot on the 12th was a turning point, because I got very lucky there. My ball was in a footmark there. But on the 18th, I didn’t think too much. I just felt very confident on that shot.”
The 19-year-old Vongtaveelap, who was also second in last year’s championship in Abu Dhabi, was left disappointed with her finish.
“I did my best today and my game was good,” she said. “I think I lost the tournament because of myself and did not do well under pressure. I could feel that my swing was becoming very fast and aggressive.
“Huang is a tough competitor, and she is very good and I think I am going to learn a lot from this tournament,” said Vongtaveelap, who will be playing the Stage 2 LPGA Qualifier in Florida.
The 2021 Abu Dhabi champion Mizuki Hashimoto made one birdie and 17 pars in her one-under par final round that tied her for the ninth place at five-under par 283. Saki Baba, the highest-ranked player in the field at No.3 in the WAGR, who was struggling to make birdies, finally found her touch and made six in a bogey-free round that elevated her to tied sixth place at six-under 282.
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.