Keita Nakajima

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: China’s defending champion Lin Yuxin is aiming for an unprecedented third Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship (AAC) title but will face a stiff challenge from Japanese world number one Keita Nakajima at Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club from November 3-6.

The 21-year-old Lin won his first title by three shots in 2017, after closing with a birdie and an eagle at Royal Wellington in New Zealand.

He reclaimed the crown from Japan’s Takumi Kanaya after a sudden-death play-off at Sheshan International Golf Club in Shanghai in 2019.

Now in his junior year at University of Florida, the left-hander from Beijing, 20th in the World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), will try to become the first player to win the championship on three occasions. 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. To get one ahead would be amazing,” said Lin, who 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.”

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 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 number one position from Kanaya after the latter turned professional in 2020.

With most amateur tournaments in the Asia-Pacific region cancelled due to the 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 (finishing one stroke behind Kanaya) and third in last year’s Mitsui Sumitomo Taiheiyo Masters.

Created in 2009 by the Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC), 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.

Opened in 1993, Dubai Creek’s Championship Course features an 18-hole, par-71 layout originally designed by Karl Litten before its redesign in 2004 led by Thomas Bjorn. The course has previously hosted the 1999 and 2000 Dubai Desert Classic and the Mena Tour’s Dubai Creek Open, where 2018 AAC runner-up Rayhan Thomas shot a course-record 61 in 2017.

Over the AAC’s 12-year history, the championship has served as a springboard to some of the world’s top players today, including Matsuyama, Australian Cameron Smith, Korean Kim Si-woo, Thai Jazz Janewattanond and Chinese Taipei’s CT Pan, who won a bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics this year.

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