Defending golf champion Yuxin Lin, world No. 1 Keita Nakajima to battle for Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Dubai

DUBAI: China’s defending champion Yuxin Lin is aiming for an unprecedented third Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship title but will face a stiff challenge from the in-form Japanese world No.1 Keita Nakajima and a strong regional field at the 12th edition of the tournament taking place at Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club from Nov. 3 to 6.

Lin, 21, won his first title in 2017 at Royal Wellington by three shots, after closing with a birdie and an eagle, and then reclaimed the crown from Japan’s Takumi Kanaya when he defeated him in a playoff for the 2019 championship at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai.

Now in his junior year at the University of Florida, the left-hander from Beijing, ranked No. 20 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, will try to become the first player in the history of the championship to win three times. Lin and Japan’s reigning Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama (2010 and 2011) are the only players to have won multiple AAC titles.

“It would be a dream come true if I can win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship for a third time. To already be placed in the same bracket as Hideki Matsuyama as a two-time champion is surreal so to get one ahead would be amazing,” said Lin, who already has experience of playing in the UAE, having finished tied for 30th in the European Tour’s Abu Dhabi Championship last year.

“It is the biggest tournament in our part of the world, and I know how much the players will be eager to get their hands on the trophy. It is an incredible opportunity to gain an invitation to the Masters and a place in The 150th Open at St Andrews next year. It will be a tough task, but I will give it my best shot,” he added.

While Lin is currently eyeing a return to form with his last win coming in March 2020 at the Southern Highlands Collegiate, Nakajima has been an unstoppable force in his home country. In his last three starts, he has won the Japan Amateur Championship, followed by last week’s triumph at the Panasonic Open against a quality field of professionals on the Japan Golf Tour.

Nakajima — who came close to winning the AAC in 2018 in Singapore when he was a co-leader going into the final round only for his fine 67 to be upstaged by compatriot and best friend Kanaya (65) — won the Mark McCormack Medal in August this year for being the top-ranked amateur in the world. He took over the No. 1 position from Kanaya after the latter turned professional in 2020.

With most amateur tournaments in the Asia-Pacific region cancelled due to the continuing coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the 21-year-old Nippon Sport Science University student has relied on playing against professionals in the last couple of years. Apart from his recent Panasonic Open win, he also finished second in the Token Homemate Cup in April (one stroke behind Kanaya) and third in last year’s Mitsui Sumitomo Taiheiyo Masters.

Nakajima, who said he cried on the day Kanaya decided to turn professional, added: “I’m an amateur who is at college, so it is an honor that I get the chance to play against the professionals. I feel it provides me with a great challenge to compete against them and that it has helped me become a better player.

“Of course, my confidence is high because of the win but I know I will still have to play at my best in Dubai to be in contention on the final day. I want to be with Hideki when he defends his Masters title next year, so this is my best chance to fulfil that dream and get to play alongside him at Augusta National Golf Club.”

Nakajima is already assured of a place at The Open next year and the US Open as a result of winning the Mark McCormack Medal.

Created in 2009 by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation, the Masters Tournament, and The R&A, the AAC was established to further develop amateur golf in the region. The champion receives an invitation to compete in the Masters Tournament and The Open, while the runner(s)-up gain a place in final qualifying for The Open.

The 2020 AAC, scheduled to be held at the Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia, was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 championship will mark the first edition held in the UAE, one of the APGC’s 42-member countries, and will join the numerous professional and amateur events Dubai hosts annually, including the European Tour’s Dubai Desert Classic and DP World Tour Championship.