Thailand’s Paphangkorn ‘Patty’ Tavatanakit and six-foot tall Wenbo ‘Maggie’ Liu of China are the top-ranked players in this week’s Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific (WAAP) golf championship, which will tee-off on the New Tanjong course at Sentosa Golf Club on Wednesday and conclude on Saturday.
The 72-hole stroke play event features 83 players representing 18 nations, with more than half of the field 18 years old or under, and ages ranging from 13 to 25.
The top-quality field features 15 players from the top 100 of the World Amateur Golf Ranking, comprising four from Korea, three from Japan, two each from Australia, Thailand and Chinese Taipei, and one each from China and the Philippines.
The winner will earn invitations to both the ANA Inspiration (29 March-1 April) at Mission Hills Country Club in California, USA, and the Ricoh Women’s British Open (2-5 August) at Royal Lytham & St Annes Golf Club in Lancashire, England, as well as next week’s 11th HSBC Women’s World Championship, also at Sentosa Golf Club.
At 13th in the WAGR, Tavatanakit is the field’s highest-ranked player and last year competed at three major championships – ANA Inspiration, U.S. Women's Open and Evian Championship.
Tavatanakit, who went to school in Bangkok, also started playing college golf at the University of California, Los Angeles last year and her impressive results since joining the UCLA Bruins include a tie for first at the Stanford Intercollegiate in October.
In the same month, she finished runner-up at the Annika Intercollegiate by 3M and third at the Nanea PAC 12 Preview, while in December she finished third at the Dixie Amateur won by Korea’s Yujeong Son, also playing in Sentosa this week.
“I’m loving college so far and I’m really pleased with my results since I started. I’ve learned a lot about game planning, adjusting to a team environment and how to handle myself on a golf course,” said Tavatanakit, who wore a UCLA bucket hat for her practice round on Tuesday.
“I’ve prepared myself pretty well in terms of getting ready for this week physically and mentally, but I’ll take any outcome. At the end of the day, it’s a new experience that I can learn from so I just hope to do my best. I’m trying to not think too much about winning and I’m just so glad to come back to Asia, see my parents again and enjoy this week.”
Fellow Thai Atthaya Thitikul, 53rd on the WAGR, won the SEA Games individual gold in Malaysia last August and is one of two players in this week’s field who have won professional events.
Last July, Atthaya succeeded Lydia Ko as the youngest-ever winner on the Ladies European Tour when she won the Ladies European Thailand Championship at 14 years, four months and 19 days.
“It was a really big surprise. It made me feel more confident about my game,” said Atthaya, who turned 15 on Tuesday (February 20). “I’m excited about this week because all the top players from the Asia-Pacific countries are here. I’m not thinking about winning, just doing my best.”
The towering Liu has also won a professional tournament, the Zhangjiagang Shuangshan Challenge in China last April, and is currently ranked 20th on the WAGR. Standing 1.82 metres tall – “not as tall as Michelle Wie” – the Beijing-based 17-year-old is currently in the process of adjusting her swing under new coach Gary Gilchrist.
“I’m aiming to do well this week and I’m feeling fine, but I’m in the middle of changing my swing so I think my chances are only so-so,” said Liu, who was previously coached by Andrew Park in Orlando.
Yujeong Son (35th) and compatriot Ayean Cho (36th) are the field’s third and fourth highest-ranked players, followed by Yuka Saso (38th) of the Philippines.
Australia’s Kirsty Hodgkins (40th) and Grace Kim (66th) are Australia’s highest-ranked players. Hodgkins has played at the University of Colorado since August 2016 and is one of three Australians playing college golf in the US along with Colorado teammate Robyn Choi and Julienne Soo, who’s in her third year at the University of Oklahoma.
“The course is amazing,” said Hodgkins, who’s based outside Brisbane. “The challenging holes are the long par-fours including eight and 12, which also has water so that’s going to be a little interesting.”
Choi agreed that the 6,456-yard (5,904-metre) layout would prove a big test. “The par-fours are long and it’s challenging, but I love the course.”
Callista Chen, the highest-ranked of the six Singaporeans in the field, will hit the WAAP’s first tee-shot from hole one at 8.00am on Wednesday and hopes that local knowledge of the New Tanjong will boost her chances of a high finish.
“Especially because this is the first WAAP, it’s very special to be able to hit the first tee-shot. I’m aiming to finish in the top 15 or top 20, so if I finish anywhere there, I’ll have achieved my goal,” said Chen.
“My first major golf memory was here at Sentosa a few years ago watching the HSBC Women’s and that inspired me to take up golf seriously and sparked my ambition to turn pro. The course does play pretty long and needs a lot of five-irons and hybrids in to the greens, plus the greens being hard doesn’t make it easy, so having home advantage helps.”
Jacqueline Young, Singapore’s second-ranked player, is also delighted to be part of the first edition of the championship.
“It’s a huge opportunity and it’s incredible to be around all the top players from around the region,” said Young. “The prize of going to three big tournaments if you win is just unreal.”
The Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship has been developed by the Asia Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) and The R&A to nurture talent and provide a pathway for Asia’s elite female amateurs to the international stage. The championship will be contested over four rounds of stroke play from 21-24 February 2018.
Entry to the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship is free of charge.