Asia-Pacific Amateur was my major championship of the year
By Paul Gueorgieff
Editor, Golfer Pacific NZ
This is the time of year when I would usually reflect on the past year.
It would normally recall golf’s four major tournaments — the Masters Tournament in April, the US Open in June, The Open Championship in July and the US PGA Championship in August.
I would remind you that Sergio Garcia won the Masters, beating Justin Rose on the first sudden-death playoff hole. The Spaniard’s victory was his first in a major championship at his 74th appearance and came on April 9, which would have been the 60th birthday of Spain’s golfing hero Seve Ballesteros.
I would then pose the following question. Can you remember who won the US Open, because I couldn’t?
The answer, after I looked it up, is Brooks Koepka. He won by four shots with a score of 16 under par which equalled Rory McIlroy’s record as the lowest score in the tournament’s 117-year history. Koepka’s winning purse was $US2.16 million which was the first time $US2 million had been exceeded for the winner of a major.
It would then be on to The Open Championship, more commonly known as the British Open. I would pose yet another question. Where was the British Open held?
The answer is Royal Birkdale. The winner was Jordan Spieth who was recording his third win in a major. Spieth beat fellow American Matt Kuchar, the sentimental favourite, in a dramatic final round which included one shot that took Spieth 20 minutes to play.
On the par four 13th hole, Spieth hit his drive nearly 100 metres to the right of the fairway, leaving him an unplayable lie. He incurred a one-shot penalty before hitting his next shot from the practice range where he made a remarkable recovery to escape with a bogey.
More startling golf was to follow. On the 14th hole Spieth nearly holed his tee shot to make an easy birdie and he then drained a 35-foot putt for an eagle at 15 before posting birdies at 16 and 17. Spieth went on to beat Kuchar by three.
The year’s final major, the US PGA Championship was won by Justin Thomas which was to become his third of four wins on the PGA Tour for the 2017 season, as well as taking out the season-ending FedEx Cup playoffs.
But while those events are easily the biggest tournaments of the year, none represented my highlight for 2017.
That distinction, for me, went easily to the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship in Wellington in October. The Asia-Pacific might only be an amateur event and only for players from the Asia-Pacific region but it was the nearest thing to a world-class professional golf tournament apart from the fact that no professionals were playing.
What made the Asia-Pacific great was the input from the organisers of the Masters Tournament. They poured in millions of dollars and it made me think that things like the entrance road to Royal Wellington Golf Club being re-sealed the week before the tournament was more than co-incidental.
There were large digital screens posted around the course over the concluding holes where up-to-the-minute scores could be viewed. Such screens would not come cheaply.
The Masters’ people must also have paid for the weather. Wellington was deluged by wet weather for months beforehand and at my own golf club, just a few kilometres down the road, long-time members were saying that they had never seen the course so wet for so long.
But just two weeks before the Asia-Pacific the weather came right and to use racing parlance, golf courses in the Wellington area went from a heavy 11 to a good 3.
And just as amazingly, Wellington was blessed with fine weather for the week of the tournament.
Then there was the live television coverage of the Asia-Pacific. Once again top marks. It was like watching a PGA Tour or European Tour event. The pictures were highly complimentary, including making the neighbouring Hutt River look like a pristine waterway. There were also pictures of the dramatic Huka Falls in Taupo which I am told may have appeared at being at the head of the Hutt River — don’t tell anyone that is not quite the case.
But what also impressed me was that the hundred or so volunteers such as course marshals, scorers, scoreboard walkers and caddies were well looked after. All volunteers were supplied with a jacket, two shirts, a cap and were provided with breakfast and lunch each day.
The icing on the cake was that the public turned up in droves. There would have been perhaps a thousand people watching the final hole as 17-year-old Yuxin Lin of China hit a five iron from 197m to within several feet of the hole for his second shot of the par five hole of 497m. Lin duly holed the putt for eagle to provide a fitting end to a fantastic week.