Hours after the sun sets in Wellington tonight, six of Australia’s finest amateur golfers will begin dreaming of making the drive up Magnolia Lane at Augusta National.
And, when they wake, those dreams could begin to eventuate, as the opening round of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship gets underway.
The winner of the APAC also receives a start at the 2018 Open Championship at Carnoustie – but according to tournament favourite Travis Smyth, it’s the Masters that’s this week’s biggest prize.
“Augusta for me is the top major,” Smyth said. “Growing up it was always my dream to be able to play and win that tournament. Not to take anything away from the Open, but Augusta is the main reason I really want to win this week.”
The 22-year-old is every chance of realising his boyhood dream, thanks to the condition of the course and the extensive preparation scheme provided by Golf Australia – which saw the Australian team flown to Royal Wellington earlier this year.
“The course is playing tough, which is good,” Smyth said. “We came over here a month ago and it was super soft, whereas now it’s pretty firm with the wind, so I think that favours us Aussies and Kiwis going into this week.”
The tall New South Welshman isn’t getting ahead of himself, however, and knows the importance of keeping a level head – no matter the outcome of this week.
“It would be amazing to win this week,” Smyth said. “But sometimes winning a really big event can also not be great … a lot of people start to go on the backward trend because they think they’ve made it. So it’s good to see guys like Hideki (Matsuyama, 2010 & 2011) – and hopefully we can say Curtis (Luck, 2016), who’s established himself now in America.”
The Australian team is heavily favourited to defend the title won by Curtis Luck last year, and boasts the two highest placed players in the World Amateur Golf Rankings – Smyth (12th) and Harrison Endycott (14th).
“We’ll be doing everything we can and we’ve each prepared so well for this week,” Endycott said. “Even though the Open and the Masters is at the front of your mind, we’ll each try to play it as just another golf tournament.”
When asked what the secret to success might be at Royal Wellington, Endycott responded: “Driving the ball well and iron play … the guy who dials in with their irons and hits the correct sections of these greens, I think, is going to have the best chance.”
One player who is likely to do just that is 19-year-old Min-Woo Lee. The younger brother of Minjee won the US Junior Amateur Championship last year. And although the West Australian is confident in his team’s ability, he has his eyes firmly fixed on the trophy as he makes his tournament debut.
“Everyone is here to win,” Lee said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re the favourite team because it’s an individual tournament, but we like to think that we’re the top team,” Lee said.
Dylan Perry, who finished runner-up at The Amateur earlier this year, reiterated the strength of the Aussie team.
“All six of our guys are inside the world’s top-100 (amateurs), so we’re definitely a strong team,” Perry said. “But this week is obviously an individual tournament so we’re all here to win.”
Shae Wools-Cobb will be the first of the Australians to tee off tomorrow (9:00), while Travis Smyth will be the last (14:00).
The opening round of the 2017 Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship gets underway tomorrow morning. Follow updates from the tournament on Twitter @GolfAustMag