By Paul Gueorgieff
Golfer Pacific editor
The 17th hole at the Royal Wellington Golf Club is a short par-four which drifts to the right, but not even the top players usually attack the green from the tee.
The hole only measures 325m but many of those playing the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship last month chose a long iron from the tee. A good shot would leave a simple wedge to the green.
But that was not the strategy for Yuxin Lin who posted China’s third win in the nine-year history of the Asia-Pacific at Royal Wellington. Lin was in a share of the lead on the last day but that did not deter him on 17 from choosing driver.
It was a great shot. His drive finished on the very side of the green and he was left with a simple chip and putt for birdie which was converted.
The other co-leader was Andy Zhang, also from China, who was playing in the same group as Lin. Zhang took an iron off the tee on 17 and put a wedge shot close to the pin. But he was unable to sink the putt and it ultimately was the final turning point of Lin’s victory.
Lin went to the 18th with a one-shot lead over Zhang and he finished off the tournament in grand style. The 18th is a 497m par five and after a superb drive Lin said he was left with 197m to the hole.
He considered a four iron for his second shot before going with a five iron. He flushed the ball which finished perhaps only four feet from the hole. He duly knocked in the putt for eagle and victory over Zhang by three strokes.
Lin, a left-hander, said his decision to opt for driver on the 17th was not deliberately to put pressure on Zhang. Instead it was what he had done all week.
“I hit driver for all four days, and also practice rounds, because I knew I can actually reach that green,’’ Lin said.
“It’s only like 335 (yards) to the front. If I make like a decent contact, it will definitely go on the green.
“It was not to put pressure on Andy. I was just trying to stick to my plan.’’
Lin, 17, has been playing golf since he was six and was introduced to the game by his father.
“My dad, he plays a lot of golf, even though he’s not a good player. He took me to the range when I was like six.
Lin also speaks fluent English, with a hint of an American accent. He went to the United States mainly to learn English.
“I actually went to an American school when I was in fourth grade. So, I studied basically just all English for like five years.’’
Lin will be invited to the New Zealand Open near Queenstown next March and it’s not an offer he will refuse.
“I will definitely come back for the New Zealand Open next year. It’s a really good experience and practice for me to play like big events, like big,professional events.’’
The two big carrots of the Asia-Pacific were invitations to next year’s US Masters and the British Open.
“I’m very, very, very happy I can get a chance to play these two majors. I’m actually very proud of myself to be able to do it. For next year, I think I will just try to enjoy as much as possible.’’
The Asia-Pacific was a grand tournament. It was the nearest thing to a PGA Tour event without the players being professional.
It carried three hours of live television for each of the four days and it remains the world’s most televised amateur golf tournament.
Much of the money for the event comes from the Masters Tournament, organisers of the US Masters golf tournament at Augusta National, and it seemed more than coincidental that Golf Road, the entrance to Royal Wellington, was re-sealed the week before the tournament.
Some also jokingly suggested that the Masters people also purchased the weather. Wellington had been drowned by wet weather for months beforehand but amazingly the fine weather arrived little more than a week earlier and course ended up being presented in top class condition.
The course also had large and easy-to-read screens posted at various points to show up-to-the-minute scores and the hundred or so volunteers, such as caddies, marshals, spotters and scorers, were rewarded with a couple of shirts, a jacket, a cap and lunch and breakfast each day.
The tournament, which comprised about 116 players from 37 nations in the Asia-Pacific region, was rewarded with great crowds and there would have been several hundred spectators in attendance at the 18th on the final day. The crowds were said to be much bigger than most of the previous eight tournaments.
New Zealand, as hosts for the tournament, was allowed 10 players and the best of them were Wellington star Daniel Hillier and Wairarapa’s Kerry Mountcastle.
Hillier finished sixth at five-under par with scores of 70, 73, 68 and 68 on the par 71 course. His game was a little scratchy on the first two days but he said he was pleased with his final two rounds.
“I think I was able to hold my head up high in the end,’’ Hillier said.
He admitted it was difficult being the big local hope with much expectations riding on his shoulders but added it was a great experience.
Mountcastle was one shot further back at four-under par and ninth for the tournament. He was considered one of the lesser lights of the New Zealand representation but he took six weeks off from his job as an electrician to concentrate on his golf and it paid off.
As a consequence he said he would have to reassess his career as a golfer which effectively had been part-time.
By Paul Gueorgieff