Defending champion Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand and local favourite Yuka Yasuda will be at the head of a strong field going into the second edition of the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific (WAAP) championship, which tees off next week at The Royal Golf Club in Hokota, Ibaraki Prefecture.
The first round of the championship, which is ranked as an elite event in the women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking (WAGR), is played from Thursday, April 25 to Sunday, April 28.
Among the other leading players are Australia’s Grace Kim (69 in WAGR), China’s Lei Ye (77), Chinese Taipei’s Yu-Chiang Hou (43), Malaysia’s Loy Hee Ying (176) and the Philippines’ Yuka Saso (29) as well as India’s Seher Atwal (338) and Hong Kong’s Mimi Ho (566).
The strong Korean contingent will include Seo-yun Kwon (38) and two others in the top 100 – Yae Eun Hong (82) and Uhjin Seo (99).
Yasuda, 18, finished fifth and just outside the four joint leaders at the end of regulation play in the inaugural WAAP at Singapore’s Sentosa Golf Club. The play-off, won by Thitikul, also featured Yasuda’s compatriot Yuna Nishimura (52), the second highest-ranked player from the host nation.
Yasuda, winner of the Junior World Cup and Women’s Australian Master of the Amateurs, comes into the WAAP in good form, having finished tied for third place with the Philippines’ Yuka Saso at the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur (ANWA).
“It is a matter of great pride that so many girls from Asia are playing well in tournaments across the globe,” said the Kobe resident.
“I think it is the result of having set up an environment in which we can play golf happily. There are many good players of my generation and it will be an exciting championship.
“I will be playing at the Royal Golf Club for the first time. However, if I can play like I know I am capable of, I think I can do well in the championship.”
Thitikul, the highest-ranked player in the field at number nine, was disappointed after missing the cut by one shot at the ANWA but had closed with three birdies in the back nine of her second round to give herself a good chance.
The youngest winner in the history of the Ladies European Tour (she won the 2017 Thailand Open at the age of 14 years, four months and 19 days), Thitikul said: “I’m so excited to be able to come back and play in WAAP again. This year again, I just want to enjoy every moment of the championship and do my best. There is no pressure.
“The win last year meant so much to me. I got invitations to a lot of big tournaments on the LPGA and I learned a lot playing with the professionals.
“I think this is a great championship for all the amateurs in my country and for all the girls in the region. I hope the opportunities I got to improve myself after the win acts as an inspiration for everyone else in the field.”
Asian Games double gold medallist Saso (individual and team titles) will be another player keen to get her hands on the trophy after coming so close last year when she was one of three players eliminated by Thitikul in the play-off. Saso finished tied third in the ANWA along with Yasuda and is looking forward to the contest at the Royal Golf Club.
“I’m really happy to be able to play again in the WAAP. It is one of those championships that you just don’t want to miss,” she said.
As the host nation, Japan receives eight places in the championship, while some of the leading countries have six places. The championship has also received entries from countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam and Sri Lanka, where the women’s game is still in its infancy.
The field at the Royal Golf Club comprises 17 players ranked inside the top-100 of the WAGR. The champion will earn a place in two of the five women’s majors – the
AIG Women’s British Open and the Evian Championship. She will also receive an invite to the 2020 Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
The Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship has been developed by The R&A and Asia-Pacific Golf Confederation (APGC) to unearth emerging talent and provide a pathway for Asia’s elite women amateurs to emerge on the international stage.
The R&A launched the Women in Golf Charter last year and is committed to increasing the participation of women in the sport. The WAAP is one of several key championships conducted by the governing body and a significant initiative along with the APGC to drive the popularity of women’s golf in the region.
Kabaya Ohayo Group and Rolex are the championship’s Official Scoring Partners and Evian are Official Water Supplier. IMG assists with championship staging and TV broadcasting.
Entry to the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific championship for spectators is free of charge.