26 Oct 2022 | Amateur golf |

McKinney prepped to lead Aussie Asia-Pacific assault

by Dane Heverin

Connor McKinney, Hayden Hopewell and Lukas Michel enjoying a practice round together.
Connor McKinney, Hayden Hopewell and Lukas Michel enjoying a practice round together.

It has been six years since an Australian won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and if you ask Australian Amateur champion Connor McKinney, we are ready for another one.

"We've got a spirit between us guys and we know when to dial in and play good golf," he said.

"Personally, I've won a few trophies this year that gives me a lot of confidence and for sure I get another one. It'd be a great place to do it.

"I'd join a great list of champions. Being alongside the likes of Curtis Luck (who won in 2016) and Hideki Matsuyama (who won in 2010 and 2011) would hold me in good stead for the future."

World No.25 McKinney tees it up at Amata Spring Country Club in Thailand this week as Australia’s top ranked player and he is one of the favourites to lift the trophy following his breathtaking year that is included winning the national title with a clutch 25-foot birdie putt in a playoff and triumphing in the St Andrews Links Trophy with a final round 65 at the Old Course.

The Scottish-born West Australian refuses to choose a favourite between those incredible victories, but it is clear that a win this week would also hold a special place in his heart.

This event last year kickstarted the Joondalup member’s remarkable 12 months. He was a shot off the lead through 36 holes before falling away to finish in a tie for 18th, but he found the belief that week in Dubai that has driven him to new heights.

"I've always believed in myself, but doing it at this level is a different thing," he said. "Being in contention for three rounds gave me a lot of confidence and I took from it that I don't need to force the issue. It'll come to me."

Victory this week would also bring to life a childhood dream of not just McKinney’s, but every player’s in the field. An invitation to The Masters next April and The Open at Royal Liverpool next July.

"It's always in the back of your mind but you've got four rounds ahead of you," McKinney said.

"I've always got up and watched the last round of The Masters or any major really so to have the chance to go play in it would be pretty surreal. I've always dreamed about it since I've played golf."

If those major opportunities were to arrive, it would somewhat complicate McKinney’s plans to turn professional after he won the first stage of DP World Tour Q-School in Portugal by five shots last month.

First, he will face stiff competition for those chances to play on the biggest stage, particularly from his countrymen.

Sydney sensation Jeffrey Guan is a player that many are keeping a close eye on.

The 18-year-old has had a thrilling year including winning a second straight Australian Junior Amateur title, taking out the Junior Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass and representing the International Team in the Junior Presidents Cup.

He has been racking up the frequent flyer points in recent months and of his overseas experiences, The Australian Golf Club member believes his Junior Players Championship victory will aid him the most this week - not only because Amata Spring’s island green par-3 17th - which requires players to take a boat to the green - shares similarities with TPC Sawgrass’ famous par-3 17th.

“Playing at TPC Sawgrass, I think this course kind of relates to that,” Guan said.

“I feel like it’s a typical Florida course, even though it’s in a different country. I’m playing pretty good at the moment, and I’m really confident about my game.”

Another West Australian who is returning for a second shot at the Asia-Pacific crown is Hayden Hopewell and he too has impressed on the international stage this year.

The Royal Fremantle member made the Round of 16 at both the US Amateur and the European Amateur, but it is his win at the WA Open in 2020 and his runner-up finishes at the same event and TPS Murray River last season on the ISPS HANDA PGA Tour of Australasia that are set to hold him in good stead in Thailand.

“It’s definitely a huge confidence builder, knowing that you can perform with the pros at that level,” he said.

“It definitely makes you feel comfortable out there and kind of knowing that you can get up there and have a chance to win is definitely nice.

“I’ve always looked up to this event and always wanted to play this event. Hopefully I walk away with a win.”

The remaining four Australian representatives are no slouches either.

Harrison Crowe has spent a lot of time with McKinney and Hopewell touring Europe and the United States this year as part of Golf Australia’s high performance program, and he was dominant back home last summer.

The Sydneysider claimed three amateur titles, but his biggest statement came in winning the NSW Open.

Stanford University student Karl Vilips is also back on the Asia-Pacific stage after first playing in this event in 2019, while Vilips’ teammate at the Junior Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne that year, Joshua Greer is a consistent performer.

Rounding out the Australian representatives is 2019 US Mid-Amateur champion Lukas Michel who has been making headlines for teeing it up this week despite playing little competitive golf in recent times due to focusing on his work in golf course design.

Round 1 tee times AEDT

10.52am* Lukas Michel, Dongjin Park (Korea), Riura Matsui (Japan)

11.14am* Jeffrey Guan, Aaron Du (China), Sam Jones (New Zealand)

11.36am* Connor McKinney, Sun-Yu Li (Chinese Taipei), Jimmy Hydes (New Zealand)

11.48am* Harrison Crowe, Wenyi Ding (China), Rayhan Abdul Latief (Indonesia)

2.55pm Joshua Greer, Justin Bai (China), Yubin Jang (Korea)

3.39pm Hayden Hopewell, Ratchanon Chantananuwat (Thailand), Leo Oyo (Japan)

3.50pm Karl Vilips, Masato Sumiuchi (Japan), Chaun-Tai Lin (Chinese Taipei)

TV Schedule

LIVE 6pm-9pm Thursday, Friday on Fox Sports 505

LIVE 4pm-7pm Saturday on Fox Sports 505

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