Elite amateurs turn up Sydney heat

David Micheluzzi
Victorian Dave Micheluzzi will fly the flag for Australia against a strong field of amateurs at The Lakes.

One of the strongest amateur contingents in living memory will tackle next week's Australian Open.

No fewer than seven of the world's top 20 amateurs will test their mettle against the professionals as they seek to emulate Aaron Baddeley, the most recent amateur champ in 1999.

And they'll all arrive in Sydney in white-hot form.

Tournament director Trevor Herden said, befitting the growing reputation of the amateur game, he expected several of them to feature on the overall leaderboard.

"We've seen a few really good amateur performances the past few years and with this crop at The Lakes, I see no reason that won't continue," Herden said.

"There are some impressive Australians among them, but the tournament has also attracted a few of the best performed athletes from overseas, too, including the US and Asia-Pacific champs.

"Some will say it's the future of golf, but I wouldn't be surprised if that future comes a bit earlier than we expect."

The Australian amateur contingent is particularly strong, but contains two players whose status remains up in the air.

Perth's Min Woo Lee and Wodonga's Zach Murray are both weighing up their options around turning pro, but are yet to determine a timeline. They currently stand as No.7 and No.19 in the world amateur rankings.

Even should they make the transition, world No.14 David Micheluzzi, of Melbourne, and Australian Junior champ Connor Fewkes, of Kalgoorlie, will fly the flag proudly.

Norwegian Viktor Hovland, world No.4, is arguably the hottest amateur on the planet having won the US Amateur in August and, just last week the individual section of the East Lake Cup while representing his Oklahoma State University.

Japan will pack a mighty one-two punch with Australian Amateur champ Keita Nakajima returning Down Under after his recent third-place finish in the Asia-Pacific Amateur.

The victor on that occasion in Singapore was his countryman and Masters and Open Championship-bound Takumi Kanaya, the world No.8.

Kanaya not only dominated Asia-Pacific's best, he was also second in the individual standings at the recent Eisenhower Trophy in Ireland.

New Zealand's Daniel Hillier, a former Australian Junior champion, has ridden an impressive 2018 winter campaign to rise to No.18 in the world and will return for his second shot at the Stonehaven Cup.

And he'll be joined by American Zach Bachou, the world No.17 who successfully defended his Canadian Amateur crown in August.

"It's certainly an impressive collection of players," Herden said.

The low amateur will win a silver medal presented alongside the overall champion on the final green at The Lakes.

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