Cameron Smith is among six young Australians who have accepted invitations to the fourth edition of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which will be held from November 1-4 at Amata Spring Country Club in Thailand.
Smith, who finished fourth last year in Singapore, will be joined at the prestigious event by newcomers Oliver Goss, Brett Drewitt, Ricky Kato, James McMillan and Nathan Holman.
Australia’s top-ranked junior in 2009 and 2010, Smith was the medallist at the Australian Amateur Championship in January and last year won the Australian Men’s Stroke Play Championship and the Australian Boys’ Amateur Championship, the latter by eight strokes.
Now, the Brisbane-based 19-year-old is confident an Australian can triumph in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which has been won by Han Chang-won of Korea (2009) and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (2010 and 2011), who both earned appearances at the Masters Tournament.
“The quality of Aussie players this year is strong and I think all of us could put up a good fight for the title,” said Smith, who on Sunday finished 17th in the Asia-Pacific Panasonic Open in Hyogo, co-sanctioned by the Japan and Asian Tours.
“We all have experience in big tournaments and we have a good chance of winning if we play to our potential. It would be a good break for Australian golf if one of us were to win as not everything has gone our way in golf recently.”
Organised by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), the Masters Tournament and The R&A, the event offers the winner an invitation to the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club. In addition, the champion and runner(s)-up earn spots in International Final Qualifying (IFQ) – Asia for The Open Championship.
Smith is the only member of this year’s Australian contingent who has competed in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, although he will be competing in Thailand for the first time.
“I’ve never visited Thailand before, so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve heard good things about the country and Amata Spring, and I’d like to see as much as I can while I’m there,” said Smith, who will represent Australia in the World Amateur Team Championship in Turkey in early October.
“The Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship is easily the best event I’ve ever played. The hospitality and support from tournament organisers, sponsors and volunteers is amazing, and the hotel rooms and facilities at the golf course are great.”
Goss, 18, is also expected to be a strong contender. Now a freshman at the University of Tennessee, he reached the quarterfinals of the US Amateur in August and was number 24 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR) when invitations were distributed at the end of August.
Goss won this year’s WA Amateur in March and in June he travelled to Japan, where he and Kato helped Australia win the Toyota Junior Golf World Cup for the first time.
All of the Australian participants have been in good form this year. Kato, whose parents were born in Japan, won the Tasmanian Open in February, while Drewitt triumphed in the NSW Amateur in February. Holman won the Australian Master of the Amateurs at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in January and McMillan finished runner-up in the Golf SA Amateur Classic in April.
The Asia-Pacific Amateur will feature up to 120 players from the APGC’s 36 member nations. Each national association received two invitations based on the WAGR as of August 29, while the rest of the field is made up of invitations by ranking. Each country is allowed up to a maximum of six players, while Thailand can have up to 10 as the host.
Japanese star Matsuyama will attempt to win a third straight title after victories in Japan and Singapore earned him invitations to the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, where in 2011 he finished 27th to win the Silver Cup as low amateur and again made the cut this past April.
Amata Spring, located in Chonburi outside Bangkok, has hosted many international events including last December’s Thailand Golf Championship won by Lee Westwood, a 2010 skins contest featuring Tiger Woods and the first four editions of the Royal Trophy between Europe and Asia.